Barrett returns at 10; Smith to lead All Blacks against Fiji
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Beauden Barrett will start at flyhalf and scrumhalf Aaron Smith will captain the All Blacks for the first time when New Zealand meets Fiji at Dunedin on Saturday in the first of two rugby tests.
Barrett is in competition with Richie Mo’unga for the All Blacks No. 10 jersey after returning from a sabbatical in Japan. Mo’unga has been New Zealand’s starting flyhalf for most of the last two seasons and Barrett has been fitted into the national team at fullback in a dual playmaker role.
Barrett played at flyhalf during his time in Japan and has made clear he wants to play at flyhalf again for the All Blacks.
Mo’unga started at No. 10 in the All Blacks’ first test of the year against Tonga last week. Barrett now has a chance to make his claim to the role, with Mo’unga left out of the match 23. Damian McKenzie has been named on the bench as cover.
Smith has been picked to lead the All Blacks in his 98th test, restoring his former halves partnership with Barrett.
“Aaron is a special player with real mana and a natural leader and his preparation is second to none,” head coach Ian Foster said.
Lock Brodie Retallick returns to the lineup for the first time in almost two years after also taking up a contract in Japan. He will combine in the second row with Patrick Tuipulotu.
Loosehead prop George Bower and openside flanker Ethan Blackadder will start a test for the first time after making debuts from the bench against Tonga. Blackadder is the son of former All Blacks backrower and Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder.
Foster has selected David Havili and Rieko Ioane in another another new midfield combination. Ioane, a winger, started at outside side last weekend in partnership with new cap Quinn Tupaea. Havili, usually a fullback, has been used in midfield this season by the Crusaders in Super Rugby and the All Blacks now have also pressed him into that role. He will be making his first start Saturday in his fourth test.
Jordie Barrett will start at fullback in a back three with the Crusaders pair of George Bridge and Sevu Reece on the wings. Will Jordan, who scored five of the All Blacks 16 tries in their 102-0 win over Tonga, is named on the bench.
Crusaders prop Ethan de Groot will likely make his test debut as a replacement.
“The Fiji team will bring a very different challenge from Tonga,” Foster said. “They are a more established side made up of primarily overseas-based players who are amongst some of the better players in Europe.
“It should be a fast, physical match and our team are excited by what the weekend will bring.”
The inexperienced Simione Kuruvoli will start at scrumhalf for Fiji in place of Frank Lomani, who has been unable to travel from Australia to New Zealand because of a COVID-19 outbreak in New South Wales state. Queensland-based scrumhalf Mosese Sorovi and flyhalf Teti Tela are also affected.
Fiji head coach Vern Cotter said Kuruvoli, who will be marking Smith in only his second game for Fiji, “has big shoes to fill but he has trained really well, speaks and connects well with (flyhalf) Ben Volavola plus he has got Kini Murimiruvalu at fullback who will also guide him.”
Cotter said Seta Tuicuvu will start on the bench as cover for fullback and the halves.
“He is a talented player.” Cotter said. “He doesn’t talk much but he played very well at halfback during training and impressed us enough to be on the bench.”
Fiji has named an experienced forward pack with Peni Ravia, Sam Matavei and Mesake Doge in the front row, Leone Nakarawa at lock and Albert Tuisue at backrow.
“Leone Nakarawa coming back in the team has helped cohesion in the lineout and lineout calling as he brings experience,” Cotter said. “Some young players have been named on the bench such as Peni Narisia who plays for Brive, has been playing well and has impressed us.”
Uncapped Crusaders winger Manasa Mataele and Eneriko Buliruarua have been included on the bench.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, George Bridge, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (captain); Hoskins Sotutu, Ethan Blackadder, Shannon Frizell, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot, Tyrel Lomax, Samuel Whitelock, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan.
Fiji: Keni Murimurivalu, Eroni Sau, Waisea Nayacalevu, Levani Botia (captain), Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola, Simioni Kuruvoli; Albet Tuisue, Mesulame Kunavula, Johnny Dyer, Leone Nakarawa, Temo Mayanavanua, Mesake Doge, Samuel Matavesi, Peni Ravai. Reserves: Peni Narisia, Haereiti Hetet, Leeroy Atalifo, Tevita Ratuva, Peceli Yato, Setareki Tuicuvu, Eneriko Buliruarua, Manasa Mataele.
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