Hansen makes five changes for All Blacks

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Coach Steve Hansen reached for his scalpel in making five changes to the All Blacks side to face Argentina in Saturday's Rugby Championship Test in Wellington.

The return from injury of centre Conrad Smith and prop Tony Woodcock was expected, but Hansen showed he isn't afraid to rotate in the pursuit of improvement elsewhere.

Young powerhouse Julian Savea replaces Hosea Gear on the left wing while Hansen continues to experiment at lock and blindside flank where Brodie Retallick and Victor Vito are restored in place of Sam Whitelock and Liam Messam.

It will mean Hansen has given just four players a start in the first six Tests of his tenure - fullback Israel Dagg, halfback Aaron Smith, captain/flanker Richie McCaw and prop Owen Franks.

Joining Gear in being dropped from the 22 is prop Ben Franks, who makes way on the reserve bench for the uncapped Charlie Faumuina.

Gear has paid in part for some ordinary counter-attack by the back three during the 22-0 defeat of Australia 12 days ago.

Savea, 22, and Retallick, 21, made bright debuts in the first Test against Ireland in June but weren't as impressive in the second and haven't started since.

Savea was forced to watch from the stands as Gear played three Tests in the No.11 jersey, while Retallick came off the bench in all three.

It was a similar story for Vito, who limped off with a knee injury during the first Irish Test but made the reserve bench for both Bledisloe Cup Tests behind Messam.

The return of Conrad Smith from eye surgery (for Japan-domiciled Sonny Bill Williams) and Woodcock from rib pain (for Wyatt Crockett) lifts the experience of the starting XV to 660 caps.

Smith reunites with long-time midfield partner Ma'a Nonu in their first Test together since the World Cup final.

Woodcock is the All Blacks' most experienced prop and part of a front row boasting 218 Tests between them.

By contrast the locking pair of Retallick and Luke Romano are the least experienced - with eight combined caps - since Ali Williams and Keith Robinson packed down against Wales in Cardiff 10 years ago.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Victor Vito, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore.