Richie Mo’unga will make his first run-on start of the year when the All Blacks meet the Springboks in Johannesburg on Sunday morning (NZT).
Coach Ian Foster, who is facing the prospect of being dismissed by NZ Rugby if the All Blacks don’t win at Ellis Park, has made four changes to the side that started the 26-10 defeat to the Springboks in Mbombela last weekend.
Mo’unga replaces first five-eighth Beauden Barrett, who has been listed on the bench for this Rugby Championship fixture.
Barrett has been passed fit to play despite being involved in a horrific collision when Springboks right wing Kurt-Lee Arendse tipped the All Black on to his neck while attempting to take a high ball in the final moments of the test last weekend.
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The other three changes are in the forward pack. Props Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax, and blindside flanker Shannon Frizell have all been named to start.
Foster will hope the decision to relegate loosehead prop George Bower to the bench, and to leave Angus Ta’avao out of the match-23 provides the All Blacks will more parity in the scrums. Uncapped tighthead prop Fletcher Newell has been named in the reserves.
Frizell has swapped places with Ioane, with the former coming on as a substitute late in the game last week to score a try in the final minutes. Hooker Codie Taylor replaces Dane Coles on the bench.
Jordie Barrett, who hurt his ankle in Mbombela, has also been passed fit to start at fullback.
Barrett’s quick healing powers would have given Foster something to smile about during a difficult week, given his long-ranging kicking off the tee could prove vital at 1730m above sea level.
Captain Sam Cane will surpass Jerome Kaino (81) as the third-most capped All Black loose forward.
“Belief and confidence remain high in our group, which is working incredibly hard this week,” said Foster. “Playing at Ellis Park is always a special occasion for any All Black team, and this weekend will be no different.
“Adding to that, the Freedom Cup is on the line which makes this a challenge that everyone is looking forward to.”
The All Blacks, who have lost five of their last six tests and are now at an all-time low of No 5 on the world rankings, will be desperate to remedy their inability to rise quickly from the blocks prior to this fixture.
Sluggish starts cost the All Blacks dearly during the 2-1 series loss to Ireland in New Zealand last month and an inability to score first was again an unwanted feature of their game against the Springboks at Mbombela Stadium.
The All Blacks scrum also creaked, with four penalties conceded in the set-piece, they were outgunned at the breakdown and their strategy of trying to run around the Springboks’ defensive line was unpicked by a line of rushing tacklers.
Foster will also need his team to remain more composed if they make valuable line breaks. Loose passes, poor option-taking and dropped balls did the visitors few favours in Mbombela, and they can expect a hot reception in front of 62,000 fans at Ellis Park.
They haven’t lost consecutive tests in the Republic since 2009.
Meanwhile, the Springboks have brought back veteran No 8 Duane Vermeulen, who returns from injury, for his first test of the year.
He is one of five changes to the side that started in Mbombela. Jaden Hendrikse will start at halfback in place of the injured Faf de Klerk, who was concussed in the first minute of last weekend’s match.
With right wing Kurt-Lee Arendse suspended for four weeks after his reckless mid-air collision with Beauden Barrett, Jesse Kriel will start in that position.
Coach Jacques Nienaber has also relegated hooker Malcolm Marx, who caused chaos with his turnovers in Mbombela, to the bench. Bongi Mbonambi will start in his place.
Ox Niche has also replaced Trevor Nyakane at loosehead prop.
All Blacks: Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Caleb Clarke, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (captain), Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Tyrel Lomax, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ethan de Groot.
Reserves: Codie Taylor, George Bower, Fletcher Newell, Tupou Vaa’i, Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Quinn Tupaea.