Rugby World Cup
Barrett, Smith revert to type for final All Blacks tune-up
Canon Rugby in Focus: The All Blacks are taking no chances as they look to emerge from the weekend's test match against Tonga unscathed.
There’s a familiar look to the All Blacks side to play Tonga in the World Cup dress rehearsal in Hamilton, with Beauden Barrett back at first five and Ben Smith at fullback.
The change is forced, with Richie Mo’unga out injured. It may be that we get a false impression in what could be a high scoring test - but it will still be interesting to see how they go.
So much has been made of the dual pivots role when Barrett is at fullback and Mo’unga at 10, so this is a return to a more traditional looking backline.
It will be Smith’s 32nd start at fullback - the same number of tests he has started on the right wing, where he was used in his last two tests, the draw with South Africa and loss to Australia in Perth.
Hansen said much has been made of that, with many convinced it has been his use on the wing that has seen his form drop.
"Nothing could be further from the truth”, Hansen reckons. The coach noted Smith’s hamstring injury during Super Rugby had restricted his game time, and his confidence had dropped with that.
He compared Smith to Dan Carter in 2015 when injuries had impacted on his game time and form, with many calling then for Carter to be dropped.
Instead he starred in the quarterfinal win against France and carried that form into the semifinal and final wins against South Africa and Australia.
Hansen said they’d “stripped the paint back” with Smith and encouraged him to just trust his instincts, not over-think things and enjoying playing again.
“I want to see Bender be Bender and trust his instincts and play,” Hansen said.
This side is the frame-work of the team Hansen wants to use against South Africa in the World Cup opener so it was important, he said, to give as many players as possible a chance to play.
That was inhibited by minor injuries to Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Cane and Rieko Ioane - the latter of whom Hansen confirmed would have played if fit.
But Hansen also said George Bridge and Sevu Reece had taken their chances on the wing and it was now up to others to play better.
That applied to the props, too, and at lock, where Patrick Tu’ipulotu starts ahead of Scott Barrett.
In the midfield, Ryan Crotty is back from his injury and starts alongside Anton Lienert Brown, a player Hansen says is the team's form midfielder.
TJ Perenara gets a start at halfback in part because Aaron Smith is just back from the birth of his first child.
Josh Ioane is on the bench alongside Jordie Barett - but it’s Ioane who is covering first-five despite Barrett being one of several players who will provide that cover in Japan.
Hansen said that, while the World Cup is now “just around the corner” it was important the All Blacks focused on the 'right here, right now'.
"The players have brought real energy into our preparations here in Hamilton and the key will be to harness that excitement and put in a skillful and clinical performance on Saturday.
"Tonga will be targeting this game in a bid to build momentum into their Rugby World Cup campaign, and so are we, as it's going to be important for both teams to head into the tournament with confidence."
Important, too, that the All Blacks get through this final hit out unscathed.
The All Blacks team to play Tonga on Saturday September at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton. (Kick off: 2.35PM)
1. Joe Moody (40)
2. Codie Taylor (44)
3. Nepo Laulala (19)
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (24)
5. Samuel Whitelock (111)
6. Ardie Savea (38)
7. Matt Todd (20)
8. Kieran Read - captain (121)
9. TJ Perenara (58)
10. Beauden Barrett (77)
11. George Bridge (4)
12. Ryan Crotty (44)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (37)
14. Sevu Reece (2)
15. Ben Smith (79)
16. Liam Coltman (5)
17. Ofa Tuungafasi (29)
18. Angus Ta'avao (7)
19. Scott Barrett (30)
20. Luke Jacobson (1)
21. Aaron Smith (86)
22. Josh Ioane *
23. Jordie Barrett (11)
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.
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