TEAM NEWS: All Blacks wield selection axe ahead of Bledisloe decider

by AFP

Longtime All Blacks mainstays Owen Franks and Ben Smith have been dropped for Saturday's must-win Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Auckland as the world champions seek salvation.

For what coach Steve Hansen has labelled a "massive, must-win" Test he resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes following the record 47-26 defeat by the Wallabies in Perth a week ago.

Instead, only three players have been axed for the return clash in Auckland but they are all big names with Rieko Ioane joining Franks and Smith on the reject pile.

Ben Smith has been dropped from the All Blacks side for the return Bledisloe clash. Photo: Getty Images

The two other changes involve Sonny Bill Williams returning at inside centre for the injured Jack Goodhue with Patrick Tuipulotu is in for the suspended Scott Barrett.

Coming into the reshaped backline are greenhorn wings George Bridge (three Tests) and Sevu Reece (one) while Anton Lienert-Brown moves out one place to accommodate Williams.

In the forwards Nepo Laulala, with 19 Tests behind him, takes over as tighthead prop from the 107-Test Franks.

Neither Franks, Smith (79 Tests) nor Ioane (26 Tests) were retained as replacements.

Rieko Ioane is among those dropped from the All Blacks side. Photo: Getty Images

A week ago the All Blacks were on the wrong side of all the key statistics and with their forward pack out-muscled which left scrum-half Aaron Smith struggling to give a quick service to the backline.

But Hansen remains keen to see his twin playmaker scheme gel with Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo'unga at fly-half.

He has also maintained faith in the loose forward trio of Kieran Read, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.

"We have worked hard this week on our game and all that comes with it," Hansen said.

Sonny Bills Williams will come into the side to tackle Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi. Photo: Getty Images

"We've had a great preparation and really excited and looking forward to a massive, must-win match for the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday."

The Bledisloe Cup, played annually between the trans-Tasman neighbours, has been in New Zealand hands since 2003 under a system which says the cup goes to the winner of the series and in the event of a drawn series it stays with the holder.

This puts pressure on the Wallabies to win on Saturday if they are to regain the trophy.

They last beat the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1986 and have lost all 18 matches they have played at the New Zealand fortress since then.


All Blacks to face Wallabies

1. Joe Moody

2. Dane Coles

3. Nepo Laulala

4. Patrick Tuipulotu

5. Sam Whitelock

6. Ardie Savea

7. Sam Cane

8. Kieran Read (c)

9. Aaron Smith

10. Richie Mo'unga

11. George Bridge

12. Sonny Bill Williams

13. Anton Lienert-Brown

14. Sevu Reece

15. Beauden Barrett


16. Codie Taylor

17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi

18. Angus Ta'avao

19. Jackson Hemopo

20. Matt Todd

21. TJ Perenara

22. Ngani Laumape

23. Jordie Barrett