All Blacks name experienced team for Wales opener

by AAP

The All Blacks selectors have resisted injecting new faces straight into the starting side for their first Test since retaining the World Cup.

Nine players who began the World Cup final have retained their place for the opening Test against Wales at Eden Park on Saturday.

In that group is captain Kieran Read, the No.8 leading his country for the 10th time but the first since replacing the retired Richie McCaw on a fulltime basis.

Coach Steve Hansen has quelled any urge to thrust uncapped squad members directly into the first of three Tests although two of them - loose forward Ardie Savea and Chiefs centre Seta Tamanivalu - are on the bench.

Ardie Savea is one of two debutants named on the bench. Photo: Getty Images

Hansen went with widely-predicted solutions to filling holes left by departed greats McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith from the team who triumphed against the Wallabies at Twickenham last October. Also unavailable with injury were winger Nehe Milner-Skudder (long-term knee) and lock Sam Whitelock, who failed to overcome a hamstring niggle this week.

Sam Cane, who was a reserve in the final, takes McCaw's openside flank berth.

Three starting players whose last Tests were in the World Cup group phase are wing Waisake Naholo, centre Malakai Fekitoa and lock Luke Romano.

Two starters who didn't make it to the World Cup are second five-eighth Ryan Crotty and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden, who hasn't played a Test for more than 18 months because of injury.

Cruden is handed the playmaking duties in front of in-form pair Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga in one of the more contentious decisions.

Aaron Cruden will play his first Test match in 18 months. Photo: Getty Images

The biggest bench surprise is a recall of hooker Nathan Harris, who usurps World Cup final reserve rake Codie Taylor.

The last of two Tests for Harris was against the United States in 2014, when he suffered a serious ankle injury. Following a long recovery, his appearances at the Chiefs have been sporadic.

The other bench-warmers not selected for the World Cup are the two rookies and lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

Hansen says the new look to his side shouldn't be regarded as an opportunity for Wales to exploit.

"Whilst the opposition might believe that we're vulnerable because it's our first Test and we have lost some experienced players, we don't have that mindset," he said.

All Blacks

Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Seta Tamanivalu.



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