The All Blacks say they’ll resist wholesale changes for Bledisloe 3 against Australia on Sunday with three already forced upon them with front line players sidelined on baby watch.
Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock stayed at home awaiting childbirths, with Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara and either Scott Barrett or Patrick Tuipulotu the expected choices as cover.
The All Blacks will also feature a first time captain in Ardie Savea.
New Zealand have, in the past, made widespread changes once the series has been wrapped up, as it has this time. But All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree told reporters on Wednesday that the team has decided against that approach with a clean sweep beckoning.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks break so we’d be silly to make wholesale changes because some of our players haven’t had a lot of rugby,” Plumtree said on Wednesday.
“We stuck with pretty much the same group through the two Bled games in New Zealand so we’ve got to be conscious of that.
“Making wholesale changes would be silly. We’ll have to make some changes, yes, but settling on combinations we’ve been using is probably the smartest thing to do right now.
“We’re away for a long period of time and we’ve got a pretty small squad really so we’re going to be relying on this group and everyone is going to get an opportunity so that’s going to be good for the players and for us.”
Aside from the three forced changes most interest for Kiwi reporters was whether Anton Lienert-Brown, who missed the 57-22 win in Bledisloe 2 will return at centre with Rieko Ioane moving to the wing.
Another key call looms at fullback where Jordie Barrett is pushing to displace Damian McKenzie.
Jordie Barrett has started just once in four appearances this season, against Fiji with McKenzie playing both Bledisloe games. McKenzie is also expected to be No.10 cover with Mo’unga out.
“Damian McKenzie has played pretty well we feel but Jordie is sitting there on the fringes,” Plumtree told reporters.
“We know what Jordie can bring to a Test match like this. We’ve certainly talked about him as selectors but you’re going to have to wait and see what we do. Jordie is really keen, dying for an opportunity.”
Perenara, who has returned after a stint from Japan to play club rugby in NZ, is given the front running over Brad Weber to replace Smith at the scrum base.
“We’ve got a very experienced halfback and leader in TJ Perenara,” Plumtree said.
“He’ll be looking to establish the position. While Aaron is away it’s a chance for both those boys to step up and own the position and both of them will get an opportunity to do that.
“We’re not sure if Aaron is going to be able to join us and those three halfbacks know that so they’re going to work really hard to get the No 1 spot.
“There’ll all good players in their own right, slightly different to Aaron, but they’ll bring their best.
“TJ has been a big part of this team for a long time the fact he went to Japan and then came in a little bit late that’s a reality but he’s slipped in seamlessly like he’s never left.”