The All Blacks suffered a serious injury blow Saturday on the eve of the opening Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia, with fullback Beauden Barrett forced to withdraw with an Achilles tendon injury.
The two-time world player of the year has been replaced by Damian McKenzie, who was not in the original match-day squad and who played the last of his 23 Tests two years ago.
Barrett’s injury flared up during training on Friday.
Although it settled overnight and he was involved in the early part of the All Blacks’ final training run on Saturday, the team decided not to risk playing him.
“He probably could have played at a push but we have full confidence in Damian stepping up,” new All Blacks skipper Sam Cane said.
Cane came to prominence as a 20-year-old in 2012, when he made both his Super Rugby and All Blacks debuts under the guidance of now Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie at the Waikato Chiefs.
They developed a relationship which has given Cane a good insight into what to expect from the Wallabies.
“If I know Dave Rennie, he’ll drill into his side to work hard, fight for every inch. (They will be) very physical but will like to use the ball too so there won’t be any moments where we can switch off,” he said.
The Wallabies were to fly to Wellington, venue for the Test, late Saturday after ending their 14 days of training in quarantine in Christchurch.
Captain Michael Hooper, who will be playing his 100th Test, said it was a type of build-up he had never experienced before.
“Covid aside it would have felt different. Everything’s shuffled, everything’s changed. There’s a new coaching staff, a lot of new players and a new lot of enthusiasm.”
The near-capacity crowd of 30,000 expected at Wellington Stadium was “25,000 more than we’ve been used to thanks to Covid”, he added.
Sunday’s Test will be the first international rugby since the coronavirus pandemic halted the Six Nations in March. Neither New Zealand or Australia have played since last October, at the World Cup in Japan.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie; Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge; Richie Mounga, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell; Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu; Ofa Tu’ungafas, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Bench: Dane Coles, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Nepo Laulala, Tupou Vaai, Hoskins Sotutu, TJ Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, Caleb Clarke
Australia: Tom Banks; Filipo Daugunu, Hunter Paisami, Matt Toomua, Marika Korobiete; James O’Connor, Nic White; Pete Samu, Michael Hooper (capt), Harry Wilson; Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto; Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Bench: Jordan Uelese, Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Rob Valetini, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Reece Hodge