Blues players Rene Ranger and Keven Mealamu have been named on the All Blacks bench for Saturday’s Test against France at Eden Park.
The team is as follows: (with Test caps in brackets. * denotes a new cap)
1. Wyatt Crockett (11)
2. Dane Coles (4)
3. Owen Franks (45)
4. Luke Romano (11)
5. Brodie Retallick (13)
6. Liam Messam (20)
7. Sam Cane (4)
8. Kieran Read – captain (48)
9. Aaron Smith (13)
10. Aaron Cruden (20)
11. Julian Savea (9)
12. Ma’a Nonu (76)
13. Conrad Smith (66)
14. Ben Smith (12)
15. Israel Dagg (25)
16. Keven Mealamu (102)
17. Ben Franks (23)
18. Ben Afeaki *
19. Jeremy Thrush *
20. Victor Vito (20)
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (2)
22. Beauden Barrett (5)
23. Rene Ranger (3)
The All Blacks team features a strong core of experienced All Blacks plus a clutch of younger players, with a combined total of 377 Test caps in the starting XV. †The team will be captained by All Blacks number eight Kieran Read. Another highlight of the Test team is the selection of two new caps, prop Ben Afeaki and lock Jeremy Thrush, who look set to make their Test debuts off the bench.
In the starting XV, hooker Dane Coles gets his first start in his fifth Test and will be alongside experienced props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks in the front row; Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick are the locks; with Sam Cane at openside flanker and blindside flanker Liam Messam alongside Read in the back row.
In the backs, the wellñoiled provincial combination of Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden start their fifth Test together while the All Blacks most capped midfield combination of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will again link up. †The back three sees the experienced Israel Dagg at fullback joining with two Super Rugby stars Ben Smith and Julian Savea on the wings.†
Meanwhile, joining Afeaki and Thrush on the eightñman reserves bench are experienced hooker Keven Mealamu, prop Ben Franks, loose forward Victor Vito while covering the backs are Tawera KerrñBarlow, Beauden Barrett and Rene Ranger.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “Though the week has been disrupted with injury and illness, we have still been able to have a good week’s preparation and there is no doubting that our two camps have been invaluable in assisting with this.
“To their credit, everyone has worked hard off the field and we couldn’t be happier. The young guys have provided that unbridled enthusiasm that comes with being a new All Black, while the more experienced guys have provided the calm focus that’s needed to allow a busy week to be dealt with in the right manner and to prepare well.”
Despite their last placing in this year’s Six Nations, Hansen said there was no way the All Blacks would be underestimating the French.
“We all know how the French can play. The only predictable thing about them is their unpredictability, so we will have to be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
The teams meet for the first time since the nail-biting Rugby World Cup Final at the same venue.
“The team is excited again about meeting the French at what looks set to be a sold-out Eden Park and given it’s a Centenary celebration for Eden Park, I’m sure the fans will get into the occasion as well.”
The All Blacks have played France 51 times since 1906, with 38 wins to the All Blacks, 12 wins to France and the one draw. The French last played in a three-match Test Series in New Zealand in 1968.