WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) The loss of captain Richie McCaw to a knee injury has forced two changes to the All Blacks' backrow for Saturday's crucial Rugby Championships clash with South Africa at Eden Park.
Sam Cane will take McCaw's place on the openside flank in only his ninth test match while Liam Messam will replace Steven Luatua on the blindside as the New Zealand selectors attempt to compensate for the loss of McCaw's experience and physicality.
The remaining backrower, Kieran Read, has been named captain in the absence of McCaw, who suffered a medial ligament strain during last weekend's 28-13 win over Argentina.
New Zealand and South Africa are unbeaten after three rounds of the Championships and the outcome of Saturday's match might have a strong influence on the outcome of the tournament.
The Springboks haven't won in New Zealand since 2009 and haven't beaten the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1937. New Zealand is unbeaten in all tests at the Auckland stadium venue of the 2011 World Cup final since 1994.
The South Africans are seen to have a strong chance of ending that winning streak after their commanding 38-12 win over Australia in Brisbane last weekend which gave them their first-ever win in that city.
Their earlier wins over Argentina, by 73-13 and 22-17, prolonged a winning streak in tests which now stretches to nine games while the All Blacks are unbeaten in all six tests this season, including two Championships tests against Australia and one against Argentina.
New Zealand has made five changes in all for Saturday's match. Apart from the changes to the backrow, tighthead prop Owen Franks and inside center Ma'a Nonu return from injuries while Dane Coles will start at hooker in his ninth test, replacing Andrew Hore.
Luatua, who has been in outstanding form in recent matches, has been named on the bench, along with one-test All Black Matt Todd who provides openside cover. Hooker Keven Mealamu is likely to play his 106th test off the bench.
Cane, who will give away more than 10 kilograms to his Springboks opponent, is seen to play a less physical style than McCaw, though he was one of the leading tacklers in Super Rugby this season. His selection caused the All Blacks selectors to promote Messam into the starting lineup on his return from injury because he is seen to bring the physical style New Zealand may need to combat the giant Springboks backrow.
South Africa on Thursday named an unchanged team for the match, which is one of the most anticipated in New Zealand since the World Cup.
"The test match is shaping up to be a massive occasion with the two top-ranked sides in the world coming together for what will be a special night for both teams," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
"Both teams are in good form and will bring their respective strengths to the contest.
"We have a massive amount of respect for South Africa and have prepared accordingly. The physical challenge will be huge, as it always is, and the team that executes their game with the greatest effectiveness, clarity and intensity will be the one that comes out on top.
"The whole All Blacks group is looking forward to this challenge as it will give us a great indication of what level our game is at."
Hansen said the selectors had to carefully consider their lineup for the match and their best means of coping with the loss of the 119 test veteran McCaw.
"In selecting the team, there were some tough decisions to be made, none more so than between Liam and Steven," he said. "But in the end we have gone for Liam's extra experience and physicality and we also know that Steven will enter the contest at some stage."
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Matt Todd, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings