Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Matt Todd to tackle toughest test

Matt Todd came off the bench when the All Blacks beat the Springboks earlier in the year. Photo / photosport.nz
Matt Todd came off the bench when the All Blacks beat the Springboks earlier in the year. Photo / photosport.nz

Matt Todd will play the biggest test of his career when he starts at openside flanker for the All Blacks against the Springboks in Durban.

After playing four tests since making his debut against France in 2013, the match on Sunday morning will be his first start - his selection over Ardie Savea coming as the All Blacks coaches seek to continue their policy of attempting to keep their players fresh in the midst of their 16-test winning streak.

Savea has been named on the reserves bench alongside fellow loose forward Liam Squire, with Ardie's big brother Julian given the week off after a tough recent work-load.

Waisake Naholo will wear the No11 jersey in his first match since tearing a hamstring against Australia in Sydney in August. Sam Whitelock returns to his starting lock position after coming off the bench in Buenos Aires last weekend, and midfielder George Moala comes on to the bench for the first time since returning from a knee problem.

Flanker Jerome Kaino returns to the blindside after recovering from his shoulder problem.

Apart from Todd, who has waited patiently for his big chance behind Richie McCaw and now Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, centre Anton Lienert-Brown is the big winner, the 21-year-old Chiefs player retaining his place alongside Ryan Crotty after a brilliant performance in the 36-17 win over the Pumas. The test at Kings Park will be Lienert-Brown's third start.

"Ardie has had a really busy campaign since Sammy has been injured," coach Steve Hansen said. "We just feel that as a young player we're asking a lot of him and we would benefit from giving him a breather and bringing him off the bench.

"We have a lot of confidence in Matt Todd. We think he can start a test match and do a good job for us. It just allows us to continue to grow Ardie without putting too much pressure on him."

Hansen said of Lienert-Brown: "When you get a performance like we got from L-B, we feel it would be only right to give him another go and then we'll make a decision after that about 'has he had enough - as a young player, does he need a break?' But while he's rolling hot we'll keep him rolling."

The big loser, clearly, is halfback Aaron Smith, on his way home and facing a misconduct charge after his recent alleged activities in a toilet at Christchurch airport the day after his team's first encounter against the Boks this season.

TJ Perenara starts again in the No9 jersey and going by his performance against the Pumas the All Blacks are unlikely to be too badly disadvantaged.

"Obviously he [Smith] is a word class player and you want to be able to play him, but TJ has had three good stints there now," Hansen. "He played really well when he came off the bench against Argentina, he played a good portion of the South Africa game in Christchurch, then he got a start against Argentina and played well.

"It will just be business as usual. TJ will play to his usual high standards and TKB [Tawera Kerr-Barlow] will back him up."

Smith's departure is likely to focus minds rather than provide a distraction. As Hansen said, the All Blacks have won only three tests from eight in Durban, and will be preparing for a ferocious start from a Boks team who beat the Wallabies in Pretoria last weekend.

"The inconvenient fact is they play well here so we'll need to play well too," Hansen said.

The selection re-shuffles are to mitigate against fatigue, but they should also provide a reminder that any slip in standards will result in consequences. "While it seems to be the same faces all the time, I think we've been reasonable clever, or smart - describe it however you want - in giving people little mini breaks to get them to where we are now," Hansen said.

All Blacks team to play South Africa at Kings Park, Durban, on Sunday:

15. Ben Smith
14. Israel Dagg
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
12. Ryan Crotty
11. Waisake Naholo
10. Beauden Barrett
9. TJ Perenara
8. Kieran Read (c)
7. Matt Todd
6. Jerome Kaino
5. Sam Whitelock
4. Brodie Retallick
3. Owen Franks
2. Dane Coles
1. Joe Moody

Reserves:
16. Codie Taylor
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Liam Squire
20. Ardie Savea
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
22. Lima Sopoaga
23. George Moala

- NZ Herald

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