New Zealand will persist with twin playmakers in their build-up to the Rugby World Cup, with Beauden Barrett again in the 15 jerseys and Richie Mo’unga at 10 for Saturday’s clash with Australia in Perth.
The experiment was first trialed with mixed success against South Africa two weeks ago but when naming the team on Thursday coach Steve Hansen said there was now “improved clarity of roles”.
Hansen has made several changes to the side that drew 16-all with the Springboks, including the return of blockbusting loose forward Ardie Savea. Savea will take the six jerseys, with Hansen resisting the temptation to move skipper Kieran Read to the side of the scrum.
Other changes see Dane Coles as the starting hooker, while Scott Barrett takes over from the injured Brodie Retallick in the middle row and Sam Cane returns as the openside flanker.
In the backs, Aaron Smith will start at scrum-half. It was noticeable in the South Africa Test, when he came on in the second half, that the Beauden Barrett partnership with Mo’unga meshed more smoothly. Anton Lienert-Brown has the 12 jerseys while Sonny Bill Williams remains in New Zealand to work on his match fitness.
Although this is the final round of the Rugby Championship, it is also the first match in the annual Bledisloe Cup series against Australia which New Zealand rate as second in importance only to the World Cup.
“Our preparation this week here in Perth has been very good. We can tell that it’s ‘Bledisloe One’ week as there’s a real sense of purpose in everything we do, and a real desire to do it well,” Hansen said.
“With the extra time together, we’re starting to see an improved clarity of roles out on the training park.” New Zealand’s current run of holding the Bledisloe Cup dates back to 2002 and Hansen said they were “desperate and hungry” to win it again.
“It has always been incredibly important to this team and teams before us. It’s those teams, ourselves, our country and our many fans that inspire and drive us to want to go out and re-take the trophy,” he said.
“We’ve never felt that it’s about going out and ‘retaining’ the Cup because it’s always been about earning the right to have it.” New Zealand (15-1) Beauden Barrett; Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea; Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, George Bridge.