All Blacks side named to face Wallabies
A CHAIN of incidents has delivered Ryan Crotty an unlikely place on the bench in an All Black test side which has been telegraphed for some time.
The coaches have entrusted their senior men to do the business in Sydney on Saturday as the squad has mustered a retribution attitude towards their new-look Wallaby foes.
The All Blacks will be spurred by distasteful memories of their last meeting with the Wallabies when an 18-all stalemate in Brisbane halted their run at 16 consecutive victories.
Coach Steve Hansen noted his side had not gone "bone deep" in their preparation that night last year and had suffered the consequences. That detail will have been raked over again this week.
The choice of hooker for the opening Rugby Championship match against the Wallabies was the only ambiguity in an All Black side which did suffer one late glitch when Daniel Carter damaged his calf.
Aaron Cruden was promoted to start at first five-eighths and the squad's oldest player, Andrew Hore, was picked to start as hooker.
He has played more rugby this season than Keven Mealamu or Dane Coles, who were also in the squad with Mealamu preferred on the bench and Coles taking on some more remedial work in the ITM Cup.
Crotty's rise to be within a substitution sniff of a test jersey tops an eventful few days for the Crusaders midfield back, who was called into the squad as cover when Francis Saili was hurt and then stayed because of Carter's injury.
Crotty lines up on the enlarged eight-man bench which shows a return for Blues tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina and the preference for Tawera Kerr-Barlow as deputy halfback with TJ Perenara siphoned off to ITM Cup work.
Coach Steve Hansen and his selectors have gone for their most experienced group to start successive tests against the Wallabies, who are expected to bring a revamped side to ANZ Stadium.
"With the changing of the guard in the Australian coaching group, it adds a little bit of the unexpected to the challenge. Therefore, we need to be ready for anything they chuck at us," said Hansen.
"I have a feeling there will also be huge expectations on the Australians because of the changes, and it will be interesting to see how their players and their new coaching team cope with this."
There is a strong vibe that new coach Ewen McKenzie will use Matt Toomua at first five-eighths while James Slipper has firmed as the new loosehead prop, and Hugh McMenamin is tipped to make a return as blindside flanker.
That group will be revealed late today as the Wallabies continue to talk up their chances of being good enough to win the Bledisloe Cup with two epic productions in seven days.
All that will have been noted by the All Blacks and their staff who'll try to replicate the controlled ferocity the Crusaders pack (mostly All Blacks) brought to their crushing 38-7 Super 15 playoff win against the Reds.
Nods, implied stares and the odd quip have all hinted at the All Blacks' determination to start this series strongly. Last year they began the Rugby Championship with a 27-19 win against the Wallabies and a repeat 22-0 victory at Eden Park on their way to the title.
All Blacks side
1 Tony Woodcock, 2 Andrew Hore, 3 Owen Franks, 4 Luke Romano, 5 Sam Whitelock, 6 Liam Messam, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 8 Kieran Read, 9 Aaron Smith, 10 Aaron Cruden, 11 Julian Savea, 12, Ma'a Nonu, 13, Conrad Smith, 14, Ben Smith, 15 Israel Dagg.
Reserves: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18, Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.