The All Blacks have dropped three of their top players before the second and final Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia on Saturday.
The Wallabies’ record win over the All Blacks in the opening Test last weekend has led to New Zealand coach Steve Hansen taking drastic measures.
Prop Owen Franks, who has played 108 Tests and won two World Cups with the All Blacks, and 79-Test winger Ben Smith have been dropped, along with winger Rieko Ioane.
Crusaders wingers Sevu Reece and George Bridge have been elevated to the starting lineup in place of Smith and Ioane. It will be Reece’s second Test and Bridge’s fourth.
Nepo Laulala will start at tighthead prop, replacing Franks.
Hansen did not mince his words when asked if the trio had been dropped.
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“Well, they’re not playing, so you can say they’ve been dropped,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.
“Obviously we’d like Ben, Owen and Rieko playing better, but we’ve made decisions because we’ve got to find out more about these other people in big pressure-cooker situations and you don’t get much bigger than this one – it’s why we’ve got so many people here this week,” Hansen said, noting the large media turnout.
“Everyone’s excited about it and it’s a challenge we have to face up to.”
Hansen was also asked if the changes were “a big call”.
It’s not that big a call because as I’ve just said to you, we’ve got to find out more about these other people.
To win a World Cup we’ve had to roll the dice a bit. That’s the number one priority, but we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think the other guys weren’t good enough to do the job on Saturday if we play well.
What happens if we get to the World Cup and Ben Smith blows a tyre, or Rieko blows a hamstring, and we’ve got to put a young guy in there who has never faced pressure like this before? It’s ideal.
Hansen finished the press conference by saying the world champions had been “punched on the nose” by Australia last weekend, and that “they’ve got one hand on the cup and we’ve got to take it off them”.
Australia have to beat New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday – something they have not done since 1986 – to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2003.
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The Wallabies have announced only one change to their starting side.
Adam Coleman moves off the bench to partner Izack Rodda in the second row following a hand injury to Toulouse-bound Rory Arnold.