Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen tinkers before Rugby Championship

Six Highlanders in third test squad as ABs try different combinations except at lock.

Far from making only subtle changes to the match-day squad for Saturday's third test in Dunedin as they were suggesting, the All Blacks' selectors have tinkered with just about every part of the team which sealed the series against Wales last weekend.

There are five alterations to the starting XV alone and seven to the reserves bench, with only prop Wyatt Crockett retaining his place there from the 36-22 victory in Wellington.

The only area left untouched is at lock, with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick retaining their positions.

As expected, first-five Beauden Barrett will start in the No10 jersey following Aaron Cruden's worrying neck injury late in the first half at the Cake Tin, from which he has apparently made a good recovery.

But the selection of Blues centre George Moala, who has played one test, ahead of Seta Tamanivalu and Malakai Fekitoa will raise eyebrows as he was only added the squad as back-up due to Charlie Ngatai's concussion issues.

Highlanders' loose forwards Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire will both likely make popular test debuts on their home pitch at Forsyth Barr Stadium, with Dixon replacing Jerome Kaino and Squire selected ahead of man-of-the-moment Ardie Savea on the bench.

Blues prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi is also in line to make his test debut from the bench, with Charlie Faumuina starting at tighthead prop. Regular starter Owen Franks has been left out of the squad.

Highlanders first-five Lima Sopoaga is poised to play his second test after being named on the bench.

Julian Savea returns to the left wing after he was dropped for the Cake Tin test, with Israel Dagg and Ben Smith retaining their positions at fullback and right wing respectively. Waisake Naholo, who has started both tests in this series, is on the bench.

Codie Taylor replaces Nathan Harris as back-up hooker, with lock Luke Romano also making the bench, along with the returning halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

The selections of so many new players will no doubt be a move to increase the depth of the squad ahead of the Rugby Championship, which begins with what will be a highly anticipated test against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 20, a repeat of last year's World Cup final.

It will also probably serve to increase interest in a dead rubber test after the All Blacks' victories in Auckland and Wellington, not that gaining the attention of those in the deep south was likely to be an issue. With six Highlanders in the squad - Dixon, Squire, Sopoaga, Naholo, Ben Smith and Aaron Smith - the support under the roof is likely to be at fever pitch.

"With the series won, it came down to risk and reward and we felt the rewards of seeing these new players in the test arena, after watching them for three weeks on the training pitch, outweighed any risks," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.

"It'll be exciting to see these new players making their mark for the first time in the black jersey.

"That said, we're expecting another brutal test match, with the expectation that Wales will again chuck the kitchen sink at us. We've seen over the last two tests that they're a very good side who play physical, combative and innovative rugby. Our own expectations are as high as ever and we'll be looking for continued improvement right across our game."

Last weekend, Dagg and Ben Smith celebrated their 50th tests. On Saturday, Retallick and Aaron Smith will reach the milestone.

"We congratulate Aaron and Brodie on reaching this special milestone and they can be rightly proud of everything they have achieved so far in the black jersey," Hansen said.

Wales, meanwhile, have sent home three injured players, with front rower Gethin Jenkins and lock Bradley Davies hurting themselves last weekend, and loose forward Josh Turnbull in the defeat to the Chiefs.

All Blacks squad
1. Joe Moody (13)
2. Dane Coles (38)
3. Charlie Faumuina (35)
4. Brodie Retallick (49)
5. Samuel Whitelock (74)
6. Elliot Dixon
7. Sam Cane (33)
8. Kieran Read - captain (86)
9. Aaron Smith (49)
10. Beauden Barrett (38)
11. Julian Savea (42)
12. Ryan Crotty (17)
13. George Moala (1)
14. Ben Smith (50)
15. Israel Dagg (50)

16. Codie Taylor (4)
17. Wyatt Crockett (47)
18. Ofa Tu'ungafasi
19. Luke Romano (23)
20. Liam Squire
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (20)
22. Lima Sopoaga (1)
23. Waisake Naholo (5)

- NZ Herald

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