Beauden Barrett named at first-five for All Blacks against Australia
Beauden Barrett will run the All Blacks' cutter.
On the back of guiding the Hurricanes to a maiden Super Rugby title, the first five-eighth will steer New Zealand around Sydney's AMI Stadium on Saturday. There had been a thought that Aaron Cruden might resume his position as the squad's premier pivot, but Barrett will get first crack at Australia.
Cruden started the first two tests of the season, against Wales, before suffering a neck injury. Barrett was brilliant in Cruden's absence, in the team's 46-6 third-test win in Dunedin, then played just as well for the Hurricanes.
But he won't be joined at ANZ Stadium by his Hurricanes captain Dane Coles. The hooker is still troubled by the rib injury he sustained in the Super Rugby quarterfinal win over the Sharks and Nathan Harris will wear the No 2 jumper instead.
Reserve prop Kane Hames will become All Black 1152 should he appear off the bench, having been drafted in as a replacement for fellow loosehead Joe Moody.
Out wider Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo make up the back three.
"The selectors are very happy with the 23 selected for this test match and we're looking forward to seeing them play," All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said in a statement.
"This test match will be another stepping stone in the re-establishment of this group on the international stage and we know that Australia will throw everything at us, which is what test rugby is all about. With more than 800 test caps of experience in our matchday 23, I'm confident we have the experience to deal with the challenge."
That figure of 800 is about half the number that existed within the group the last time these teams met, in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
The hopeful hosts have suggested that might make the All Blacks vulnerable. New Zealand's response has been to arrive in Sydney much earlier than usual, in a bid to remove any potential excuse for a sub-standard performance.
"This week has been about getting our preparation and attitude dead right and, therefore, there's an expectation that this group will bring real intensity, physicality and a high level of skill-execution come Saturday," said Hansen.
The match marks the start of this year's Rugby Championship but, with all due respect to that competition, it's not the prize that's really on the line here.
"We're also playing for the Bledisloe Cup, which, after the Rugby World Cup, is probably the most important trophy we play for. Both teams will be desperate to get their hands on it which will create added pressure. It's about embracing that pressure and taking it on," Hansen said.
"Our attitude has always been – and still is - that we don't hold the Bledisloe Cup by right; we have to go out and earn the right to take it. As a group we're really looking forward to this challenge on Saturday."
Absorbing and responding to pressure is not regarded as a strength of the Wallabies. They've not held this trophy since 2003 and, while they have fielded some talented teams in that time, Australia coach Michael Cheika says there hasn't been sufficient mental toughness to produce series wins.
The All Blacks are determined to ensure Saturday isn't the moment the Wallabies' belief returns.
ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Kane Hames, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea.