Auckland (AFP) – Jordie Barrett will start at fullback for New Zealand in the first Test against France in Auckland on Saturday while a slimmed-down Karl Tu’inukuafe will cement a rapid rise with a debut off the bench.
The inclusion of the 21-year-old Barrett in the team named Thursday will see long-serving fullback Ben Smith move to the right wing leaving no room for Waisake Naholo.
Barrett’s selection, along with his brothers Beauden and Scott, will be the first time three brothers will have started in the same All Blacks team.
Waikato Chiefs prop Tu’inukuafe, 25, is the sole new face in the first All Blacks match squad of the year with coach Steve Hansen, already wrestling with a raft of injuries, taking no risks against the French.
“Statistics show that they’re the best defensive team in world rugby at the moment, and history has shown us what can happen when they flick the switch on attack,” Hansen said.
Scott Barrett replaces the injured Brodie Retallick as the locking partner for new captain Sam Whitelock.
Along with Retallick, Sonny Bill Williams has also been ruled out of the series while Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty and Sam Cane have been named to start after being sidelined by injury in recent weeks of Super Rugby.
Whitelock’s brother Luke will pack down at the back of the scrum with Kieran Read not expected to return to rugby until next month following surgery on his back at the end of last year.
– ‘Spectacular rise’ –
Tu’inukuafe only made his Super Rugby debut two months ago.
He missed selection when the All Blacks squad was initially named but was called up when Tim Perry was injured during their first training camp.
A few years ago, Tu’inukuafe weighed 170kg (375lb) and was given an ultimatum by his doctor to either exercise or get used to a life of health problems.
He took to rugby, slimmed down to 135kg and played a season of club rugby in France before returning to New Zealand where he was given a start by the Chiefs when their front row stocks were decimated by injuries.
“It has been a spectacular rise for Karl,” Hansen said.
“His selection is well deserved and we look forward to watching him play his part on Saturday night. He and his family can be very proud about what he is about to achieve.”
The All Blacks have a seasoned front row of Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Codie Taylor while Liam Squire rounds out the forwards at blindside flanker.
The regular pairing of Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett start in the halves with Anton Lienert-Brown joining Crotty in the centres while Rieko Ioane completes the back three with Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett.
“Whilst rugby is a complicated game, we’ve worked hard at simplifying those complexities this week so that we can go out and play with real confidence, high energy and genuine intent on the weekend,” Hansen said.
“The players have worked hard on getting clarity of role and are up for the challenge that this French side brings.”
The All Blacks and France have played 58 times, with the All Blacks winning 45 Tests and the French 12.
The French are the last team to beat the All Blacks at Eden Park with a 23-20 win in 1994.
In 40 Tests since then at the Auckland stadium, the All Blacks have won 38 and drawn two.
New Zealand (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuake, Ofa Tuungafasi, Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape