Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

All Blacks bench place an unfamiliar one for Julian Savea

Julian Savea, disappointed to be selected on the reserves bench for the Hurricanes during the Super Rugby playoffs as his team won their maiden championship, faces the challenge of regaining his on-field confidence for the All Blacks from the same position.

Savea has been named on the bench for the opening Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday, the All Blacks coaches instead going for Waisake Naholo, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith as their back-three options.

It is an unfamiliar position for Savea to be in terms of the national team. In 43 tests, he has been named on the bench only twice - against the USA in Chicago in 2014 and again against Scotland in Murrayfield a few weeks later.

Last week backs coach Ian Foster said Savea just needed an opportunity in order to regain the form that saw the 26-year-old star at the last World Cup, where he scored a hat-trick of tries against France in the quarter-final.

"If he gets time to get on the park, what would be great is to see all the hard work he's putting in off the park to be reflected on the park," Foster said. "He's actually in great shape, is looking good, and just needs a couple of things to stick."

It remains to be seen how many minutes Savea gets on the field at ANZ Stadium. Much will depend on injuries, and with the All Blacks not having any midfield cover on the bench, they will need to shuffle their resources carefully.

It is a pragmatic selection by Steve Hansen and his assistants, but there remains an element of risk about naming Naholo on the left wing in Savea's place. Dagg's sparkling form in the last two tests against Wales in June has earned him the No15 jersey, with regular fullback Ben Smith, one of the best in the world in that position, named on the right wing.

Naholo is capable of the spectacular, but isn't immune to mistakes, as he showed in the first test against Wales at Eden Park, and with Savea you generally know what you're going to get; a safe pair of hands. An excellent cameo could see Savea back in the starting XV for the return encounter on his home pitch in Wellington seven days later; a difficult night could see his challenges continue.

All Blacks v Australia, Sydney, 10pm Saturday
15 Israel Dagg
14 Ben Smith
13 Malakai Fekitoa
12 Ryan Crotty
11 Waisake Naholo
10 Beauden Barrett
9 Aaron Smith
8 Kieran Read
7 Sam Cane
6 Jerome Kaino
5 Sam Whitelock
4 Brodie Retallick
3 Owen Franks
2 Nathan Harris
1 Wyatt Crockett

Reserves: Codie Taylor, Kane Hames, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea.

- NZ Herald

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