Surprise All Blacks start for Luke Romano
Luke Romano has surprisingly edged Brodie Retallick out of the All Blacks' starting side for Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup test.
Romano has recovered from the shoulder injury that ruled him out of last month's Super semifinal against the Chiefs and been named to start alongside fellow Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock against the Wallabies in Sydney.
Liam Messam has also earned the trust of coach Steve Hansen by usurping Adam Thomson and Victor Vito in the scramble for the blindside flanker jersey.
But it is the rise of Romano that has raised eyebrows. Retallick, one of the major finds for Hansen this season, was impressive in the June tests against Ireland before returning to the Chiefs to assist them in lifting the Super title.
Yet there is a suspicion Hansen may be wary about the young second rower losing his edge ahead of the busy Rugby Championship schedule, hence his decision to name him on the bench.
Messam's sharp rise has continued after he had been cast aside earlier in the year.
The versatile Chiefs loose forward was called in for the third test against Ireland in Hamilton only because of injury to Vito, but impressed Hansen with his hard-nosed attitude in the 60-0 rout and is now ranked the top No 6 in the country.
Hansen will be desperate to vanquish the Wallabies in his first Bledisloe as head coach and is expected to unload his bench, which includes accurate ballrunners Andrew Hore and Vito, to exhaust the Australian forwards around the 60-minute mark.
The drawn-out saga involving Sonny Bill Williams' availability has ended in him being named at second five-eighth alongside Ma'a Nonu. Their size and ability to penetrate the defensive wall may ensure the smaller Australian pair of Anthony Fainga'a and Rob Horne are in for a tough evening.
The last time Williams and Nonu started in the midfield was when the All Blacks beat Tonga 41-10 in the World Cup opener at Eden Park.
This will be Williams' first outing on a rugby field in Sydney since doing a runner on the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in mid-2008 before signing with French club Toulon.
His decision to go walkabout was revealed just hours before the All Blacks kicked off in Sydney - it was Robbie Deans' first match in charge of Australia in a Bledisloe Cup match. The Wallabies won 34-19.
Hosea Gear, who emphasised his value against the Irish in Hamilton with a brutal display of power running, starts on the left wing ahead of Julian Savea, who may have been suspect if exposed to the Wallabies' kicking game.
Right wing Cory Jane starts his first test of the year, having been ruled out of the Irish series because of injury.
ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
- © Fairfax NZ News