All Blacks make wholesale changes
Rugby:Number eight Kieran Read will captain the All Blacks for the first time against Italy on Saturday as coach Steve Hansen continues his long-term planning for a successor to Richie McCaw. The 27-year-old had been widely expected to be given the captaincy for at least one match on the tour.
McCaw, 31, who led the team in their 51-22 victory over Scotland last Sunday, has dropped out of the squad altogether with Sam Cane to start at openside flanker. "We were happy with our performance last weekend against Scotland but also knew there were areas for improvement ahead of the Italian test and we have been working on getting that right this week," coach Steve Hansen explained.
"The team last week put a stake in the ground, and while the performance was nowhere near perfect, there was some quality rugby played. There is now an opportunity for this group to build on that."
Hansen's wholesale changes to the side include naming regular outhalf Beauden Barrett to start at fullback. Barrett slotted into the position seamlessly last Sunday when he came on as a substitute for the Israel Dagg, who was not considered for the Italy match due to bruising he sustained after a heavy fall.
Utility back Ben Smith, who would have normally been expected to slot into fullback, was also not considered after he suffered an injury to his cheek while playing against Scotland. His centre partner Tamati Ellison was also not considered due to a toe injury so Hansen re-instated veteran duo Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, while he picked Hosea Gear and Julian Savea to start on the wings.
Blindside flanker Liam Messam replaces Adam Thomson, who was suspended for making contact with the head of Scotland's Alasdair Strokosch, though Messam had been expected to start the match anyway, irrespective of Thomson's ban.
Thomson's sanction has prompted the International Rugby Board will review the disciplinary process amid criticism that it was unduly lenient. The Thomson verdict stood in contrast to the eight-week ban handed down earlier in the day to Australia lock Rob Simmons for a “tip” tackle on France flanker Yannick Nyanga.
Thomson was yellow carded for making contact with Strokosch’s head during New Zealand’s 51-22 victory at Murrayfield and later cited for the incident. The judicial officer, Jean-Noel Couraud, upheld the foul play citing and deemed the offence to be at the lower end of the scale of IRB sanctions.
Thomson was given a two week ban, reduced to one week on account of his conduct in the disciplinary hearing — a suspension described by former England hooker Brian Moore as “ludicrously lenient”. IRB chief executive Brett Gosper responded to Moore and others who registered similar complaints over the verdict on Twitter.
Gosper wrote: “The IRB will review this case as it is a match under our jurisdiction. If we decide to take action we will make it public.”
Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu raged at the Thomson verdict and compared it with the three-week ban he received from the Rugby Football Union last year for tweets about Owen Farrell. “I got 3 weeks for sarcastic tweets. So had I just rucked Farrells head I would have got only a week? Its just so comical these days,” Fuimaono-Sapolu said.
New Zealand:B Barrett; H Gear, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; A Cruden, A Smith; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, C Faumuina; A Williams, B Retallick; L Messam, S Cane, K Read. Replacements:D Coles, W Crockett, B Franks, S Whitelock, V Vito, T Kerr-Barlow, D Carter, C Jane.