The All Blacks have made a bold call for their Rugby World Cup semifinal against England, opting to start Scott Barrett ahead of Sam Cane.
As first reported by NZME, Barrett will start in the No 6 jersey at Yokohoma International Stadium on Saturday, with Ardie Savea moving across to the openside flanker position, and Cane dropping the bench.
The inclusion of the Crusaders utility is the only change to the starting lineup from the All Blacks' quarter-final thumping of Ireland, while on the bench, Patrick Tuipulotu comes in for the injured Matt Todd.
Dropping Cane is a shock - the Chiefs star hasn't come off the bench for the All Blacks since taking on Argentina in September 2017, a run of 20 tests. When healthy, he has been the All Blacks' mainstay openside flanker since the retirement of Richie McCaw after the 2015 World Cup, rarely putting a foot wrong in the test arena.
However, Barrett has provided the All Blacks with an extra dimension which has proven exceptional in recent times, giving the All Blacks added punch at lineout time, allowing Steve Hansen's men to utilise three locks on the field, while not sacrificing much in open play or at the breakdown due to Barrett's all-around skillset.
That was shown in the All Blacks' most recent clash against England in 2018, where Barrett replaced Liam Squire shortly after halftime and made a significant impact at the lineout as the All Blacks claimed a tense 16-15 victory.
The All Blacks' lineout was also dominant after Barrett replaced Cane at halftime in their quarter-final win over Ireland, while the 25-year-old has shown his ability in open play on multiple occasions at the World Cup.
It could also throw a spanner into the works of England's plan. Their impressive flanking duo of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry have shone at the tournament so far, being dubbed the Kamikaze Kids by Eddie Jones, but they may have to adjust their gameplan to deal with Barrett in what looms as a potentially semifinal-deciding loose forward battle.
Codie Taylor retains his spot at hooker, while the midfield pairing of Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown is also maintained. Jordie Barrett remains as the versatile option on the bench.
"There's no doubt that this is a huge game and there's a lot of excitement around it," Hansen said.
"We know what we have to do and we've had a great week's preparation. The team is exactly where we want to be, mentally and physically, ahead of the weekend.
"We're really looking forward to this opportunity. It's all about this game and the moments it will bring. In these moments, the word pressure is bandied around quite readily. However, that pressure is always there whenever you play quality opposition, regardless of who you are. It's about how you handle that in the moment and not getting distracted by the past or the future.
"Let's hope the game lives up to the expectation that both teams will have, and is one for the ages."
England name their team at 9.00pm, with George Ford and George Kruis expected to be recalled for Henry Slade and Courtney Lawes.
All Blacks team to play England:
Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett.