As expected the return of Mack Hansen in place of Keith Earls is the only change to the Irish starting XV for next Saturday’s second Test at the Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin (kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish).
There are two changes on the bench, where the fit-again Rob Herring is recalled in place of Dave Heffernan, after he suffered concussion in the first Test, and Finlay Bealham is also restored after recovering from Covid in place of Tom O’Toole.
The 23-year-old Australia-born Hansen, whose mum, Diana O’Shea, hails from Cork, also missed the first Test after testing positive for Covid but having made a seamless start to his career with Connacht and Ireland, his X factor has been restored to the team as Ireland seek to level the series. Hansen played all bar the Twickenham game in Ireland’s Six Nations campaign and scored a stunning try in his second away to France.
Captain Johnny Sexton has been named to lead the side again after passing his HIA 2 and his HIA 3, and he will again be partnered by Jamison Gibson Park behind an unchanged pack.
Irish head coach Andy Farrell admitted that some of the replacements who made an impact last week were unlucky but he believes that not to give the vast bulk of the side another chance might have been a mistake.
“Yes, there are all sorts of different considerations that go into selection. Sometimes players probably have not performed to the standards they judge themselves on. To not give people opportunities is sometimes missing an opportunity.
“So there is a little bit of that. Some people are unlucky not to start because they had good impact off the bench. They understand that as well and to go along with all of that, the guys who go into Tuesday night have the opportunity to put their hand up for selection for the third Test.
“It was our first hit-out,” Farrell said of last week’s first Test. “We had a troubled week as everyone knows. This has been more of a straightforward week so a lot of the lads get an opportunity to go again.”
Farrell and his assistant coaches have come to this decision in the fervent hope, even belief, that they will reduce the error count.
“To be honest the lads are in a good place now, the Thursday before a test match, you would expect them to be but even earlier in the week, there is a bit of doubt creeps in when you don’t know the answers — but they do know the answers.
“They know the access they gave the All Blacks and they understand that you cannot do that because they know first hand that they will be behind your own posts. There are a few things to fix like there is every week.”
The enclosed Forsyth Bar Stadium will protect the matches from the chill factor and forecast snow hereabout this weekend.
“We all know it suits the All Blacks,” said Farrell. “Every game I have watched in the stadium has been fantastic. When we have been there in the past, I have coached there a good few times now and it has always been quick.
“It is not the biggest of stadiums but the atmosphere is electric in there because of the roof etc. I expect more of what we have seen in Super Rugby and when the All Blacks have played there in the past against the Lions or any international side. The ball will be quick, I am sure.”
The Irish head coach also believes that moving Scott Barrett to lock and bringing in Dalton Papalii will not weaken the All Blacks.
“They are just as strong. You talk about the fast track but you put Barrett into the secondrow and it becomes a little bit faster. They could pick four sides and they could all compete against one another.”
Meanwhile, Ian Foster and his All Blacks coaching ticket have kept faith in the starting XV from last week’s 42-19 win in the series opener at Eden Park, aside from one enforced change.
With Sam Whitelock having been ruled out with concussion, and Tupou Vaa’i the latest player to contract Covid, Scott Barrett moves from blindside to partner Brodie Retallick in the secondrow while the Auckland Blues captain Dalton Papalii starts at blindside for the first time in his 13-test career.
There are four changes on the bench, with prospective debuts for Chiefs prop Aidan Ross and Highlanders scrumhalf Folau Fakatava, while Patrick Tuipulotu’s comes straight into the match-day squad after his return from Japan, and Will Jordan returns to the ‘23′ after recovering from Covid. Foster said he wanted to give Akira Ioane (foot), David Havili and Nepo Laulala (both neck) another week to recover fully from their injuries.
While Papalii was one of the form players in Super Rugby Pacific this year until having an operation to remove his appendix, returning as a replacement for their defeat in the final by the Crusaders, it means the All Blacks’ backrow has three players who are all effective at openside. That said, the All Blacks’ lineout will not have the same height.
However Foster believes that otherwise retaining faith in last week’s starting XV, and even resisting the temptation to start Jordan for example, affords his team the best chance of securing a series win on Saturday.
“We want to win the series so that means this week for us,” said Foster. “The best way to cement the progress is to reward the effort they put in by using the experience they had playing against the Irish to try and grow some things. We felt making too many changes right now would take us back a cog.
“We saw last week there were two very good rugby teams on the park. We wanted this series to test some things against a quality northern hemisphere team and get some good information.
“We know how much they (Ireland) want it. We know they’re going to be desperate to keep the series alive so we won’t be surprised that we’re going to have to lift again. We’ve spoken about that but talking and doing are different things. We’re pretty determined.”
Papalii started nine times at openside flanker for the All Blacks last year in the absence of captain Sam Cane, bringing huge physicality in defence. In the defeat by Ireland last November at the Aviva Stadium, he led their tackle count with 22.
“He’s a different six isn’t he, but it’s a hard ground under a roof,” said Foster. “We expect the game to be fast. Dalton is a very physical player in his own right but he’s quick and offers a different skill set in that space. It’s a great opportunity for us to do that. While it’s in a starting role it’s something we’ll be looking to cover within a 23 down the track so it’s a good chance to do that.”
The All Blacks head coach acknowledged that shifting Scott Barrett to secondrow alongside Retallick, who will call the lineouts, will reduce their own options in the lineout both offensively and defensively.
“Set piece will be a little bit affected. It changes the way we have to go about it. Clearly it’s not the same mix but we’ve got to be good enough to adapt to that. It’s fair to say we would have looked at Scott again at six. We really enjoyed his game and I think you’ll see him there again at some stage, but for now it’s a chance for us to look at where we could have ended up in the second half last week with three more mobile loosies who play similarly. Dalton is a tough rugby player.”
With his strong running game, the 22-year-old Tongan-born Fakatava is in line to make his Test debut on his home ground, where he has also understudied Aaron Smith as an impact player off the bench. In three starts and a dozen Super Rugby Pacific games off the bench this year Fakatava scored five tries.
“I want to see his teeth, his big smile and I want him to go out and enjoy doing what he does,” said Foster. “The first test is always a big occasion but it’s almost twice as big when you’re playing on your home ground. He’s really clear over the last two or three weeks about the role of a nine but the flipside is he’s got his own way of expressing himself that we don’t want to inhibit.”
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Finlay Bealham, Cian Healy, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Bundee Aki.
NEW ZEALAND: Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes); Sevu Reece (Crusaders, Tasman), Reiko Ioane (Blues), Quinn Tupaea (Chiefs), Leicester Fainga’anuku (Crusaders); Beauden Barrett (Blues), Aaron Smith (Highlanders); George Bower (Crusaders), Codie Taylor (Crusaders)), Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Blues); Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Scott Barrett (Crusaders); Dalton Papalii (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs, capt), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes).
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho (Chiefs), Aidan Ross (Chiefs), Angus Ta’avao (Chiefs), Patrick Tupulotu (Blues), Pita Gus Sowakula (Chiefs), Folau Fakatava (Highlanders), Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders), Will Jordan (Crusaders).