Julian Savea returns, All Blacks make three changes for tilt at history against Wallabies
Julian Savea's return aside, the All Blacks have favoured continuity in their quest to clinch history at fortress Eden Park.
Savea's recall on the left wing in place of Waisake Naholo against the Wallabies in Auckland on Saturday is the only change to the starting team that demoralised the Springboks in Durban, with two further tweaks coming on the bench.
After making regular adjustments on their successful tour of Argentina and South Africa, the All Blacks have largely returned to their best line-up as they chase a world record 18th win in a row over top tier test nations.
It's a signal of intent; a statement of just how much they want to become the first team to own that record outright.
First-choice openside Sam Cane, who will instead turn out for Bay of Plenty in their Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal in Dunedin on Friday in his comeback from a hamstring injury, and halfback Aaron Smith, missing for a second test after his toilet incident, are the only two regular starters missing.
Cane's continued absence allows Matt Todd to claim the No 7 jersey over Ardie Savea for a second successive test and contest what will be a torrid breakdown challenge from the Wallabies, who are expected to recall fit-again turnover specialist David Pocock.
Naholo has every right to feel slightly hard done by. His influence with ball in hand in the record win over the Boks at Kings Park was there for all to see. But with Israel Dagg's ability in the air seemingly locking down the right wing role, and Savea returning to form before sitting out the Boks test, Naholo is another victim of the All Blacks' unrivalled depth. Taranaki's Naholo and Counties Manukau halfback Augustine Pulu, called into replace Smith this week, are both available for their respective provincial teams this weekend.
Elsewhere Aaron Cruden, after his comeback from a groin injury for Manawatu, replaces Lima Sopoaga on the pine. It will be Cruden's first appearance since coming on in the second half against the Pumas in Hamilton five weeks ago.
A cloud continues to surround the playmaker's future with French Top 14 club Montpellier attempting to lure him north on an annual deal said to be worth up to $1.5 million.
After sitting out the past two tests, Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa joins Cruden in the reserves, nudging out fellow midfield contender George Moala.
Anton Lienert-Brown's last two standout performances have been rewarded with another chance to cement his impressive midfield partnership alongside Ryan Crotty.
Once again, the All Blacks have opted against specialist lock cover on the bench in favour of carrying an additional loose forward, giving Liam Squire the chance to continue his progression. Squire's inclusion means Patrick Tuipulotu sits out.
The Wallabies have won three of nine tests this year, and last tasted success against the All Blacks at Eden Park 30 years ago, but coach Steve Hansen is warning against complacency.
"The squad is feeling refreshed and raring to go after our return from South Africa, and we're all looking forward to what we know is a hugely-anticipated test match at Eden Park. We've been focused in our preparation this week and there's a strong resolve within the group to put in another performance we can be proud of," Hansen said.
"Australia will be coming here with a lot more confidence than when we played earlier in the season. They've made some significant changes to their game and would like nothing better to end their Southern Hemisphere test season with a win. They've said they are keen to bring it on, and have outlined their intentions, so the stage is set for another huge trans-Tasman battle. It's a challenge we're really looking forward to."
All Blacks team: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.