Paris: Aaron Smith has been dropped as the All Blacks shake up their backline for Saturday’s Test against France in Paris, with TJ Perenara taking over at scrum-half in their “best possible” side.
Only fly-half Beauden Barrett and wing Julian Savea retained their positions in the backs from the side that beat Ireland 21-9 in last week’s bruising encounter in Dublin.
Most of the changes in the side named on Thursday are injury influenced with Israel Dagg moving to full-back for the injured Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty returning to inside centre, pushing Anton Lienart-Brown out one position with Waisake Naholo starting on the right wing.
“When it came to selecting this side, we had to make some changes because of injuries, but we also looked to pick the best side possible for what we think will be a titanic battle against the French,” coach Steve Hansen said.
“It was a very physical match in Dublin on the weekend so we have looked to get this week’s preparation spot-on, both mentally and physically, as we know France will also be looking to impose themselves upon us come Saturday night.”
The only two changes in the forwards are down to injury, with Matt Todd taking over from Sam Cane in the No. 7 jersey while a fit again Jerome Kaino returns as blindside flanker.
But Smith, widely acclaimed as one of the best scrum-halves in the world when on form, has been demoted to the bench.
He has struggled on this tour in his return to international rugby after being publicly humiliated following a liaison with a woman in an airport restroom.
After that incident, he did not play in Tests against South Africa and Australia to keep out of the public gaze, and he appears to be down on confidence since his return on the end-of-year tour.
The reappearance of Crotty was expected after he recovered from the hamstring injury that saw him limp off the field during the shock 40-29 loss to Ireland in Chicago at the start of the tour to end to the All Blacks’ 18-match winning streak.
Rieko Ioane is named on the bench as the outside back replacement with Malakai Fekitoa, who scored two of the three All Blacks tries last week, suspended for a head high tackle against Ireland.
The All Blacks have scored 538 points and 77 tries this year, trailing their best of 602 points and 81 tries in 2003 and 594 points and 80 tries in 2007.
New Zealand (15-1):
Israel Dagg; Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Kieran Read (capt), Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Rieko Ioane.