Three Blues players have been named in All Blacks starting XV to face Italy at Stadio Olimpico, Rome on Saturday.
Keven Mealamu and prop Charlie Faumuina have been recalled to the side, while Ali Williams has been promoted from the bench to start at lock.
The team is as follows: (with Test caps in brackets. * denotes a new cap)
1. Tony Woodcock (93)
2. Keven Mealamu (100)
3. Charlie Faumuina (4)
4. Ali Williams (76)
5. Brodie Retallick (10)
6. Liam Messam (17)
7. Sam Cane (4)
8. Kieran Read – captain (45)
9. Aaron Smith (10)
10. Aaron Cruden (17)
11. Julian Savea (6)
12. Ma’a Nonu (73)
13. Conrad Smith (63)
14. Hosea Gear (13)
15. Beauden Barrett (3)
16. Dane Coles (1)
17. Wyatt Crockett (8)
18. Ben Franks (22)
19. Samuel Whitelock (36)
20. Victor Vito (18)
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (1)
22. Daniel Carter (93)
23. Cory Jane (40)
All Blacks number eight Kieran Read has been named as captain and will lead the team for the first time in his 46th Test. †A natural leader, 27-year-old Read made his All Blacks debut in 2008 and has started in 40 of his 46 Tests scoring seven tries in the black jersey. †Centre Conrad Smith will be All Blacks Vice-Captain.
As flagged by the All Blacks coaches, the squad of 23 has been selected on the basis of giving all members of the 32-man All Blacks squad game time in the opening two matches of the Air New Zealand European Tour. The team is another strong, experienced All Blacks playing group with 534 caps in the starting XV and a further 219 on the bench.
In the starting XV, the front row is made up of the All Blacks most capped prop Tony Woodcock, All Blacks Test centurion Keven Mealamu and 2012 newcomer Charlie Faumuina. In the second row, Ali Williams gets a start after coming off the bench against Scotland last week and will link up with Brodie Retallick. In the loose forwards, Read will have Liam Messam alongside him at blindside flanker and Sam Cane at openside.
In the backs, halfback Aaron Smith will have his Manawatu teammate Aaron Cruden outside him at first five-eighth. The All Blacks most experienced midfield pairing, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, are back, while in the outside backs Hosea Gear is on the right wing, Julian Savea gets a second Tour Test start, with Beauden Barrett at fullback.
On the reserves bench are props Wyatt Crockett and Ben Franks, Test newcomer hooker Dane Coles, lock Sam Whitelock and loose forward Victor Vito. †The backs reserves are halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, first-five eighth Dan Carter and outside back Cory Jane.
Three players were not considered for selection due to injury – Ben Smith (cheek), Tamati Ellison (toe) and Israel Dagg (bruising).
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “We were happy with our performance last weekend against Scotland but also knew there were areas for improvement ahead of the Italian Test and we have been working on getting that right this week.”
“The team last week put a stake in the ground, and while the performance was nowhere near perfect, there was some quality rugby played. †There is now an opportunity for this group to build on that.
“We are expecting another torrid Test against the Italians in front of their passionate fans. †They are renowned for their forward play so they will certainly be up for the challenge and we will have to match that physicality. The team is excited about playing in front of the sold out crowd of 80-thousand and this will only add to their motivation.”
The All Blacks have played Italy 11 times since 1987, with the All Blacks unbeaten. The teams last played in 2009 – twice – with the All Blacks winning 27-6 in June in New Zealand and 20-6 in Milan on the Northern Tour