Blindside flanker Steven Luatua has been given the opportunity to impose himself on the Ireland pack as the All Blacks seek to end their season unbeaten on Sunday. The 22-year-old has made a solid impression for the world champions since making his debut earlier this year and had been told by coach Steve Hansen he wanted to see more aggression and leg drive in the tackle from the rangy flanker.
“If I can be physical for the whole 80 minutes then I will walk away happy,” Luatua said this week. “Ireland are a tough side and I have to be able to cope. I guess you have to have presence. When you walk off the field you have to believe that the opposition have felt your presence. That you have been present at the contact both defence and attack and you walk off feeling you have dominated the game. That’s how I measure my game.”
Luatua's promotion to the starting line-up, at the expense of Liam Messam, illustrates Hansen's desire to continue to develop young players ahead of the 2015 World Cup while they seek to complete a perfect season. The All Blacks have won all 13 of their tests so far this year and a victory over Ireland, who have never beaten New Zealand, would make Hansen's side the first team in the professional era to go through a calendar year with a 100 per cent record.
While Luatua was one of five changes to the pack that beat England 30-22 last week at Twickenham, lock Luke Romano was a first choice earlier in the season before getting injured and tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina's play has seen him challenging Owen Franks for the starting role
The vastly experienced Andrew Hore has replaced Keven Mealamu at hooker, while Wyatt Crockett has come in for the injured Tony Woodcock. The match could be Hore's last in an All Blacks jersey with many expecting him to retire from professional rugby at the end of the tour. Hore, a possible target for Leinster, has not received a contract from any of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.
Hansen has made just two changes to his backline with Cory Jane coming onto the right wing for the impressive Charles Piutau, while Aaron Cruden will start at outhalf replacing the injured Daniel Carter.
“He’s young, and if you look at the history with our young guys we’ve usually only given them a couple of big games and then let them step out and unfrazzle their heads and have a bit of a mental break,” Hansen explained regarding Piutau’s non selection. “We just think it’s time to give him a wee breather, CJ (Jane) is fit and raring to go and Julian’s got improvement in his game too.”
Scrumhalf TJ Perenara, who has battled leg injuries over the past two seasons that have delayed his test debut, has been named on the bench.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg; Corey Jane, Ben Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina; Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock; Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read. Replacements: Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.