Experienced Blues halfback Piri Weepu will make his first start of the year for the All Blacks on Saturday when they take on South Africa in Dunedin.
He is one of four Blues players named in the All Blacks squad, with Tony Woodcock and Ma’a Nonu in the starting XV, while Keven Mealamu moves to the bench as Andrew Hore starts at hooker.
The team is as follows: (with Test caps in brackets)
1. Tony Woodcock (88)
2. Andrew Hore (68)
3. Owen Franks (37)
4. Luke Romano (4)
5. Samuel Whitelock (31)
6. Liam Messam (13)
7. Richie McCaw – captain (109)†
8. Kieran Read (41)
9. Piri Weepu (62)
10. Aaron Cruden (13)
11. Julian Savea (3)
12. Ma’a Nonu (69)
13. Conrad Smith (59)
14. Cory Jane (34)
15. Israel Dagg (18)
16. Keven Mealamu (96)
17. Charlie Faumuina (1)
18. Brodie Retallick (6)
19. Victor Vito (15)
20. Aaron Smith (6)
21. Beauden Barrett (2)
22. Tamati Ellison (2)
The squad features an interchange of several starting XV and bench roles from last week. In the forwards, hooker Andrew Hore gets a start in the number two jersey with Keven Mealamu on the bench; Samuel Whitelock swaps with Brodie Retallick and Liam Messam starts ahead of Victor Vito.
In the backs, halfback Piri Weepu gets his first start of the year, with Aaron Smith on the bench; while Tamati Ellison comes onto the bench replacing Ben Smith.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said:
“We are all looking forward to the challenge that the Springboks will bring this weekend. They are an opponent that we have immense respect for, they are our traditional foe and there is great history between our two countries.
“It’s going to be a huge Test match. It is also the first All Blacks Test in Dunedin’s indoor stadium, which is exciting for the team.”
“At the halfway stage of the new Investec Rugby Championship we are very happy, from a results point of view. †There is a second challenge we have set ourselves – to constantly improve our game – and in that regard we are not the finished product. However, the coaching staff and team leaders are reasonably happy with the progress we are making and Saturday gives us another opportunity to confront both challenges – our opponent and ourselves,” Hansen added.
The All Blacks have played the Springboks in 83 Tests since 1921, with 46 victories to the All Blacks, 34 to South Africa and three draws. The very first Test between the two sides was played at Carisbrook on 13 August 1921, with the All Blacks winning 13-5.
The last Test between the two sides was in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in August last year, with South Africa winning 18-5. The last match in New Zealand was earlier that year in Wellington with the All Blacks winning 40-7.
Ma’a Nonu plays his 70th Test this weekend while his good mate Conrad Smith will pull on the black jersey in his 60th Test. The midfielders will play a record 36th Test together.
Meanwhile, Conrad Smith has been on the winning Test side 53 times in his 59 Tests for a remarkable 89.8 percent success rate. Captain Richie McCaw has played in 109 Test matches for 97 victories for an 88.9 percent success rate.
The All Blacks most capped prop, Tony Woodcock, joins teammate Dan Carter on 89 Test caps this weekend making them the joint fifth most capped All Blacks of all time.
When Cory Jane scored his 11th Test match try last week, he brought up 2000 points scored by the All Blacks in Tri Nations / Rugby Championship Test matches.
McCaw will play in his 43rd Tri Nations / Rugby Championship game this weekend, equalling the New Zealand record held by former teammate Mils Muliaina and five short of former Wallaby George Gregan’s 48.