The All Blacks have sprung a few surprises in their inaugural Rugby Championship side to face the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, on Saturday night.
One-Test All Black Luke Romano starts at lock, Liam Messam’s irrepressible form earns him a spot on the blindside flank and Hosea Gear earns a wing berth.
Romano has been preferred to outstanding young lock Brodie Retallick, although the 21-year-old star may be receiving a well-earned rest after a triumphant campaign with the Chiefs and involvement in the Ireland series in June.
Messam, another key component to the Chiefs’ maiden Super Rugby title, beat out Victor Vito and Adam Thomson, who have discussed as the main rivals for Jerome Kaino’s vacated No.6 jersey.
Gear is on one wing along with Cory Jane, who missed the Ireland series with injury. The midfield is a powerful one with Japan, and possibly NRL-bound, Sonny Bill Williams starting at second five-eighth alongside Ma’a Nonu, who pushes one out to centre to fill the gap left by injured veteran Conrad Smith.
It is Williams’ first involvement on a Sydney sporting field since he walked out on the Bulldogs in mid 2008 to take up a rugby contract with Toulon.
Saturday’s Test not only represents the first Rugby Championship match in history, expanded to include Argentina, it is also of vital importance in terms of the All Blacks continuing a Bledisloe Cup streak that stretches back to 2003 – a tenure of nine straight years.
“Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup contest brings two challenges,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“The first is our opponents who we clearly respect.
But just as important is the second challenge, which is about us being better than we were before.
“The expectation this All Blacks team has, is that it will strive to achieve these goals, both individually and collectively as a team.”
1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Tony Woodcock, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Richie McCaw, 8. Kieran Read
9. Aaron Smith, 10. Dan Carter, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Ma’a Nonu, 14. Cory Jane, 15. Israel Dagg
16. Andrew Hore, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Brodie Retallick, 19. Victor Vito, 20. Piri Weepu, 21. Aaron Cruden, 22. Ben Smith