Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has missed out on the first All Blacks squad of 2022 as Ian Foster pulled a surprise with Scott Barrett at No.6 to play Ireland on Saturday.
Beauden Barrett will start in the No.10 jersey with Richie Mo’unga coming off the bench. Mo’unga has been battling a stomach bug.
Foster opted for Quinn Tupaea at No.12, the position where RTS has featured for the Blues with mixed success since his move from the NRL.
Leicester Fainga’anuku gets a debut on the wing, while Pita Gus Sowakula is the other debutant, on the bench.
Sam Cane will captain the side from No.7, while Finlay Christie won the hotly contested back up scrum half gig behind Aaron Smith.
Crusaders captain Barrett, who has played the majority of his 48 Tests at lock was preferred to start at flanker ahead of Akira Ioane who has been left out of the 23.
Barrett will be playing the role for just the second time at Test level – the last time was in the 2019 World Cup semifinal loss to England.
Foster opted for Ofa Tuungafasi at tighthead prop with Nepo Laulala left out. George Bower will start at loosehead ahead of Karl Tu’inukuafe.
The All Blacks are missing several key players due to Covid.
“This is doubly exciting for us playing at a packed Eden Park for our first test of the year, leading into a sold out Steinlager series,” said Foster in a statement.
“After what seems like a long time away from home, it couldn’t be scripted better to be back in front of our fans for this match.”
“Whilst this week hasn’t exactly gone to plan for us, our overall preparation has gone really well.”
In selecting this team, Foster said they’ve had to take into account managing players coming from the Super Rugby Pacific series.
“We’ve prepared rigorously for this match, albeit only having a ten day period together.”
Named to play his 133rd All Blacks Test Sam Whitelock surpasses Keven Mealamu as the second most-capped All Black Test player of all time (behind Richie McCaw), in what is his 12th season with the team.
All Blacks team to play Ireland (caps in brackets)