All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made six changes for Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina but insists the revamp is part of his World Cup planning, not a reaction to a shock loss to South Africa.
Hansen said the world champions had learned from the 36-34 defeat to the Springboks, their first Rugby Championship loss in three years, and wanted to implement changes against the Puma in Buenos Aires this weekend.
He said back-to-back Tests against Argentina and South Africa next week gave world champions a chance to practice for the sudden-death rounds of the World Cup in Japan next year.
“From a selection point of view, we’ve always seen these next two Test matches as a great opportunity to replicate the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup,” he said.
“We’ll have to beat quality teams back-to-back if we are to keep advancing in the tournament.”
Jordie Barrett, who gave away an intercept try against the Boks, is the highest-profile casualty as Ben Smith returns to fullback, making room for Waisake Naholo’s return on the wing.
Sonny Bill Williams makes his first start after an injury lay-off, relegating Anton Lienert-Brown to the bench, while Beauden Barrett retains his spot at fly-half despite facing criticism over his role in the loss.
Aaron Smith also moves onto the bench as TJ Perenara comes in at half-back to earn his 50th cap.
In the forwards, Luke Whitelock and Shannon Frizell replace the injured Kieran Read and Liam Squire, with Ofa Tu’ungafasi replacing the rested Owen Franks.
Prop Angus Ta’avao has a chance to make his debut after the 28-year-old was named in the replacements following an injury to Joe Moody.
Livewire back Damian McKenzie was a late withdrawal from the squad after returning to New Zealand due to a family bereavement.
New Zealand (15-1): Ben Smith; Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell; Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock (capt); Ofa Tu’ungafasi , Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Tim Perry, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown.