Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks v Wales: Steve Hansen's most surprising decision as he names squad

Selection of Tamanivalu on the reserves bench Hansen's boldest first test decision

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has gone for the tried and trusted for his team's first rugby test since winning the World Cup last November, with the inexperienced Seta Tamanivalu on the reserves bench to play Wales perhaps his boldest and most surprising decision.

The uncapped 23-year-old Tamanivalu will cover a midfield consisting of Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa. Hansen's decisions there were virtually made for him due to the moves offshore of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, plus Charlie Ngatai's ongoing concussion.

The Fijian-born Tamanivalu, in only his second season of Super Rugby with the Chiefs, has impressed with his strength and power in the midfield this year, and Hansen might be keen to inject that explosiveness against a tiring Wales defence late in Saturday's test at Eden Park.

Alongside Tamanivalu on the reserves bench is the similarly uncapped Ardie Savea, who will likewise have the potential to ask a few questions with his own speed and power.

Hurricanes flanker Savea will back up loose forwards Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read, with Read, playing in his 85th test, leading the team for the first time since the retirement of Richie McCaw.

Hansen could have taken a more conservative route by naming Israel Dagg on the bench rather than Tamanivalu, but in picking the midfield specialist early he is giving him a chance to quickly find his feet in a new environment. Hansen is also following his tested method of introducing youth alongside experience, and his starting XV is the most experienced he could have named in the absence of Conrad Smith, Nonu, McCaw, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Dan Carter.

Listen: Grant Fox on the Crowd Goes Wild Breakfast

The match-day squad features an average of 31 caps per player.

As expected, Sam Whitelock was not named at lock due to his hamstring strain. Instead, Crusaders teammate Luke Romano joins Brodie Retallick in the second row, with Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu on the bench and with a chance of a cap for the first time since November, 2014, when he came on as a replacement against Wales in his team's 34-16 victory in Cardiff.

Aaron Cruden, named outside halfback Aaron Smith, has won the battle of the first-fives, with Ben Smith at fullback, and Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo on the wings.

Joe Moody and Owen Franks partner Dan Coles in the front row, with Nathan Harris named as back-up hooker ahead of Codie Taylor.

Hansen's starting XV, predictably conservative, is a testament to the threat of a Wales team hoping to make up for lost time in not having beaten the All Blacks in 63 years.

Hansen said: "Whilst the opposition might believe that we're vulnerable because it's our first test and we have lost some experienced players, we don't have that mindset.

"We have some very excited players who have trained well during the week and are getting the opportunity to make a statement.

"We're well aware that this is a good Welsh team and not one that we'll underestimate and we're looking forward to the challenge that comes with playing test match football, which involves high-pressure moments and huge physicality."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 03 Dec 2016 20:54:18 Processing Time: 1069ms