The All Blacks will start New Zealand flyhalf Lima Sopoaga in the third Bledisloe Cup match against Australia at Brisbane on Saturday.
Sopoaga will wear the No. 10 jersey for just the second time in a career that has seen him in 12 Tests. He will start for the first time since 2015, when he made his debut in place of the injured Beauden Barrett.
Waisake Naholo will make his 14th Test appearance, playing right wing in place of Nehe Milner-Skudder, who will miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Beauden took a hard knock to the head in the ABs Test against South Africa a fortnight ago. He passed the concussion protocol, but he has since fessed up to experiencing concussion-like symptoms, including headaches.
Fullback Damian McKenzie will take over at flyhalf, with scrumhalf T.J. Perenara and centre Anton Lienert-Brown being sent to the reserves.
Coach Steve Hansen said he has done his best to field the strongest team, but with injuries and the unavailability of key players, combined with the reality that the match is essentially meaningless in terms of the Bledisloe Cup, he probably saw no reason to go all out to replace props Joe Moody and Owen Franks, both of whom are done for the season. Locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano have not even bothered to make the trip to Brisbane. Both cited personal reasons for their absence.
According to Hansen’s remarks to the Associated Press, the selection was, “pretty straightforward, the best we can pick to face a tough old opponent.”
Hansen threw a bone to the Wallabies, acknowledging that they have improved throughout the Rugby Championship and that they would be a tougher opponent on Saturday than they were in losing the first game 54 – 34 and the second 35 – 29.
It does seem, however, that a Wallabies victory on Saturday against a depleted All Blacks side would be, at best, a semi-hollow victory.