Kieran Read returns to skipper New Zealand in their Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia on Saturday in an occasion to celebrate in the All Blacks second row.
The Test in Sydney will be Sam Whitelock’s 100th appearance for the All Blacks, who becomes only the eighth player to achieve the feat for the world champions.
The Super Rugby winner will pack down alongside customary second row partner Brodie Retallick, himself set to have reason to celebrate after missing all of last year’s autumn internationals due to personal reasons and then a broken bone in his chest ruled him out of the June series against France.
Despite the welcome return of skipper Read and Retallick, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen’s attention was focussed on Whitelock after revealing his team to take on the Wallabies.
“We want to congratulate Sammy on what will be a very special night for him and his family,” Hansen said in a statement. “We are all very proud of him.
“He’s been an outstanding contributor to this team for a long time, both on and off the field. To play one test for the All Blacks is an achievement in itself, but to be good enough to be selected and play 100 tests is a remarkable feat.”
As the All Blacks pick Crusaders centre Jack Goodhue to play at 13, Australia head coach Michael Cheika will rely on Reece Hodge’s bag of tricks to plug the gap currently exposed in the Wallabies midfield.
Capable of playing fly-half, wing and full-back, the Rebels back will line up outside of Kurtley Beale in the centre, as Cheika is forced into naming a different partnership to the one that saw Beale and Samu Kerevi fail to provide the winning formula in the June series against Ireland.
Kerevi along with first-choice 13 Tevita Kuridrani are both out injured, as Australia seek a repeat result from 2017 when they shocked their Tasman rivals 23-18 in Brisbane.
Australia: Israel Folau, Dayne Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Tom Robertson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Tui, Michael Hooper (capt), David Pocock.
Replacements: Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Jack Maddocks.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.
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