All Blacks: Fekitoa gets nod while Barrett waits

By Kris Shannon

Malakai Fekitoa will make his first test start on Saturday. Photo / Phibbs
Malakai Fekitoa will make his first test start on Saturday. Photo / Phibbs

Malakai Fekitoa will make his starting debut for the All Blacks this weekend but that honour could have easily belonged to Beauden Barrett.

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When it was revealed that Conrad Smith had broken a bone in his thumb against England last weekend, ruling him out of Saturday's third test in Hamilton, two things happened.

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First, it left the All Blacks needing a replacement at centre, with Fekitoa, the heir apparent to Smith's No 13 jersey, the obvious option for inclusion.

And second, it quashed any thoughts the All Blacks coaches had of handing Barrett a maiden run at first five-eight, leaving Aaron Cruden to play pivot in front of his home fans at Waikato Stadium.

Barrett has been breathing down the neck of Cruden throughout the English series, impressing off the bench in each of the first two tests.

But the strong case he had made for a starting spot was dashed when his Hurricanes teammate came up lame following the All Blacks' series-sealing win in Dunedin.

Instead, Barrett will have to watch on as Fekitoa enjoys the chance to impress from the opening kick off, content with another cameo and safe in the knowledge his time will come.

"With Malakai at centre, that's a new combination with him and Ma'a (Nonu), and one of the reasons why we haven't changed and given Beauden a start is that," Steve Hansen said after naming his side this morning. "We don't want two new combinations on the park. The other [reason] is we obviously trust Crudes to do the job.

"We thought a lot about it. [Barrett] is playing really well but the team comes first. We just feel that's the best thing to do - run with that combination early and bring Beaudy on later in the game. He'll get plenty of game time."

And he should certainly earn an opportunity to don the No 10 jersey at some point in the near future, even with the looming prospect of a returning Dan Carter. Hansen pointed to the example of Ben Smith, whose long wait for a run at fullback ended in spectacular fashion at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"If you've got an imagination you can work out what [Barrett] is going to do when he starts, because he does it when he comes on," Hansen said. "He's been a fantastic player off the bench for us - if you think about all the tests when he's come on, he's made a difference."

Hansen is also trusting Fekitoa will make a difference in midfield on Saturday night, unperturbed by any potential problems created by he and Nonu sharing a similar style.
"I think, though they're similar in some ways, they're vastly different in others. They'll be a good combination going forward but, like any combination, it takes time.

"I think [Fekitoa] is going to be a special player and they guy inside him is already a special player. As long as they talk to each other during the game and they're reading what's in front of them, both defensively and attacking wise, there shouldn't be too many problems."

The only other change to the run-on XV sees the return of Kieran Read at the base of the scrum. His inclusion, after a spate of complications from concussion, sees an in-form Jerome Kaino shift to blindside flanker and leaves Liam Messam the unlucky man out.

"It was tough but you've got to make tough decisions," Hansen said. "We know that [Read] is not conditioned enough to go 80, so we won't ask him to do that. We'll just ask him to go 40 or 50 and then let Liam loose."

All Blacks v England
Waikato Stadium, 7.35pm Saturday
15 - Ben Smith
14 - Cory Jane
13 - Malakai Fekitoa
12 - Ma'a Nonu
11 - Julian Savea
10 - Aaron Cruden
9 - Aaron Smith
8 - Kieran Read
7 - Richie McCaw (c)
6 - Jerome Kaino
5 - Sam Whitelock
4 - Brodie Retallick
3 - Owen Franks
2 - Dane Coles
1 - Tony Woodcock

Reserves:
Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Messam, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.

- NZ Herald

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