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Mo’unga beats out Barrett in All Blacks flyhalf contest

July 15, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2020, file photo, the New Zealand team performs the haka ahead of the second Bledisloe Rugby test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. All Blacks coach Ian Foster has handed the captaincy to veteran lock Sam Whitelock, named four new caps and come up with a patchwork solution to a shortage of midfield options, naming a 35-man squad Monday, June 21, 2021 for home tests in July against Tonga and Fiji. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2020, file photo, the New Zealand team performs the haka ahead of the second Bledisloe Rugby test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. All Blacks coach Ian Foster has handed the captaincy to veteran lock Sam Whitelock, named four new caps and come up with a patchwork solution to a shortage of midfield options, naming a 35-man squad Monday, June 21, 2021 for home tests in July against Tonga and Fiji. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2020, file photo, the New Zealand team performs the haka ahead of the second Bledisloe Rugby test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. All Blacks coach Ian Foster has handed the captaincy to veteran lock Sam Whitelock, named four new caps and come up with a patchwork solution to a shortage of midfield options, naming a 35-man squad Monday, June 21, 2021 for home tests in July against Tonga and Fiji. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Richie Mo’unga will start at flyhalf while Anton Lienert-Brown and Ardie Savea will make welcome returns from injury in the All Blacks team to face Fiji on Saturday in the second rugby test at Hamilton.

Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, rivals for the No. 10 jersey, have each started in one of New Zealand’s two tests this season, against Tonga and Fiji. Mo’unga now seems favored in the starting role ahead of the Rugby Championship.

Lienert-Brown returns at inside center after missing the tests against Tonga and Fiji as he recovered from elbow surgery. He may bring stability in the All Blacks midfield which has been in flux this season after the additional, season-ending injury to Jack Goodhue.

Ardie Savea was named at openside flanker and will also bring solidity in a constantly-changing backrow.

Fiji also will be reinforced by returning players. Scrumhalf Frank Lomani, who is based in Australia and missed the first test because of border restrictions, returns to the starting lineup. Peceli Yato forces a backrow change, displacing Albert Tuisui at No. 8.

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Lock Leone Nakarawa will captain the tourists in place of Levani Botia, who has been ruled out with a knee injury.

“Earlier in the week we knew we had a doubt with Levani and we spoke to Leone,” head coach Vern Cotter said. “He has already been looking after the lineouts and now he takes on a wider leadership role, but he does that naturally with his excellent leadership skills.”

Sam Whitelock again will captain the All Blacks from lock after starting on the bench in the first Fiji test and handing the leadership to scrumhalf Aaron Smith. The starting lineup for second test against Fiji appears to be close to the All Blacks’ strongest with the start of the Rugby Championship now only a month away.

Mo’unga started in New Zealand’s first test of the season, a 102-0 win over Tonga, while Barrett took the starting role in last weekend’s 57-23 win over Fiji.

Barrett is a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year as flyhalf, but last year had to yield the No. 10 jersey to Mo’unga and play at fullback to retain his place in the starting XV.

Barrett now will take a spot on the bench, with Damian McKenzie starting at fullback.

Head coach Ian Foster has tried two midfield combinations during Lienert-Brown’s absence.

Quinn Tupaea started at inside center in combination with Rieko Ioane against Tonga and David Havili combined with Ioane in the first test against Fiji. Lienert-Brown will partner Havili against the Fijians in what seems to be New Zealand’s best available combination.

Crusaders teammates Sevu Reece and Will Jordan will play on the wings, leaving no place in the match 23 for the talented George Bridge.

The forward pack may be close to Foster’s preferred lineup, with the relatively inexperienced George Bower selected again at loosehead prop while Joe Moody remains unavailable with an ankle injury.

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Codie Taylor will start at hooker ahead of Dane Coles, who came off the bench to score a record four tries against Fiji last weekend.

Whitelock will combine with Scott Barrett in the second row and veteran lock Brodie Retallick takes a place on the bench. Retallick played his first test in two years for New Zealand last weekend after returning from Japan.

Saturday’s match might be a crucial one for Foster after last weekend’s unimpressive performance against Fiji. The All Blacks have produced a number of poor performances in the past two years when they’ve been outplayed by physical opponents.

Fiji were dominant at the breakdown last weekend and that may be an area Ardie Savea can improve. He starts at No. 7 with Akira Ioane on the blindside and Luke Jacobson at No. 8.

Foster said he was happy with the first test effort, but acknowledged many fans were not.

“It was the second test of the year for us last weekend and we were pretty happy with our performance,” he said. “There were a lot of views about our performance and that’s the beauty of being in this team: people expect perfection.

“We took some really good steps up from the week before and we were satisfied. But it did highlight some areas we need to keep growing.”

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New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Will Jordon, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Sevu Reece, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Luke Jacobson, Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot, Angus Ta’avao, Brodie Retallick, Shannon Frizell; Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane.

Fiji: Kini Murimurivalu, Setareki Tuicuvu, Waisea Nayacalevu, Eneriko Buliruarua, Nemani Nadolo, Ben Volavola, Frank Lomani; Peceli Yato, Mesulame Kunavula, Johnny Dyer, Leone Nakarawa (captain), Temo Mayanavanua, Mesaki Doge, Sam Matavesi, Peni Ravai. Reserves: Mesulame Dolokoto, Eroni Mawi, Leeroy Atalifo, Albert Tuisue, Kitione Kamikamica, Moses Sorovi, Teti Tela, Manasa Mataele.

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