Richie Mounga has been given first crack in the All Blacks No 10 jersey, relegating Beauden Barrett to the bench for Saturday night’s season-opening test against Tonga in Auckland.
Its a change in tack from coach Ian Foster, who followed the lead of his predecessor and went for a dual playmaker setup last year, with Mounga starting the big tests at pivot and Barrett at fullback.
Barrett, who missed Super Rugby for a stint in Japan this year, has started 12 of his last 15 tests at fullback.
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All Blacks Beauden Barrett, left, and Richie Mounga celebrate a try last year.
However, Foster has opted for Damian McKenzie at fullback for the All Blacks first test at Mt Smart Stadium.
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McKenzie beat out Jordie Barrett and Will Jordan for the No 15 jersey, although the latter has been named to start on the right wing.
Fosters first side of the year includes four uncapped players, with Chiefs midfielder Quinn Tupaea named to start at second five-eighth alongside centre Rieko Ioane.
Prop George Bower, flanker Ethan Blackadder and halfback Finlay Christie are set to make their test debuts off the bench.
Foster has left plenty of firepower out of his 23, most notably Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece.
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Chiefs midfielder Quinn Tupaea will start at No 12 for the All Blacks against Tonga on Saturday night.
Outside of who Foster would go with in the No 10 jersey, just who he picked in the midfield and loose forwards were of great interest.
With Anton Lienert-Brown, Braydon Ennor and Jack Goodhue unavailable, Foster opted for Tupaea and Ioane.
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Damian McKenzie, third from left, will start the All Blacks first test of the year at fullback.
Having not named a specialist midfielder on the bench, Foster confirmed Jordie Barrett would cover the midfield from the bench.
He is excited by that. We know where he will play long term, but hes a great utility player to have.
Shannon Frizell and Hoskins Sotutu are notable omissions in the loose forwards, with Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii and Akira Ioane named to start.
Dalton gets a reward for a great campaign this year. In Akiras case, he started at six last year, and its a chance for him to put a marker down. Luke played very well for the Chiefs, and he is back in great form, Foster said.
Halfback Brad Weber, who has played seven previous tests, will make his first start in the black jersey after a fine Super Rugby campaign with the Chiefs.
Our whole group is excited. After Covid disrupted our season last year we felt a little bit distanced from our fans playing most of our games overseas, so whats in front of us this weekend is very exciting.
Foster is expected to rotate his squad the next few weeks, with Saturdays test against Tonga followed by tests against Fiji in Dunedin and Hamilton on July 10 and July 17 respectively.
All Blacks: Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Richie Mounga, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Angus Taavao, Dane Coles, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, George Bower, Tyrel Lomax, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett.