The All Blacks will hand Fijian-born winger Sevu Reece his Test debut against Argentina in the Rugby Championship this weekend as part of an experimental match-day squad that features five new faces.
Coach Steve Hansen was forced to ring the changes for Saturday’s match in Buenos Aires after deciding to rest eight players from the Super Rugby-winning Canterbury Crusaders and losing veteran Sonny Bill Williams to injury.
Reece’s fast-track into the All Blacks continued after a sensational 15-try Super Rugby season that followed a domestic violence incident last year which almost derailed his career.
The 22-year-old is the only uncapped player to start the match but Hansen named another four debutants on the bench – utility back Braydon Ennor, halfback Josh Ioane, loose forward Luke Jacobson and prop Atu Moli.
“It’s going to be exciting to watch how the new All Blacks perform along with their more experienced teammates,” Hansen said. “The team is a mixture of experience and raw enthusiasm.”
Williams failed to recover from a hamstring strain and Hansen said winger Rieko Ioane missed out simply because he had already established himself at the top level ahead of the World Cup.
“We already know that he’s a very, very good test player,” Hansen said. “We need to find out about Sevu and some of those other selections we’ve made.”
In William’s absence, Ngani Laumape partners Anton Lienert-Brown in the centres.
Captain Kieran Read is among the Crusaders being rested, with flanker Sam Cane handed the skipper’s armband for only the third time in his 61-Test career.
The pack has a makeshift look about it as several first-choice Crusaders forwards are missing, prompting Hansen to give prop Angus Ta’avao his second Test start.
New Zealand have never lost in 28 meetings with Argentina, although the South Americans managed a 21-21 draw in 1985.
But the All Blacks, who are chasing a third straight World Cup in Japan this year, will be wary of a Pumas team dominated by in-form Jaguares players who made the Super Rugby final.
Hansen said he expected to face an Argentina side that was brimming with self-belief and intent on claiming a prize scalp.
“We know that we’ll be facing a confident, physical side,” he said.
“Their players will have taken a lot of confidence and self-belief from the Jaguares Super Rugby season… they will see this game as a massive opportunity to make a statement.”
New Zealand (15-1)
Ben Smith; Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (capt), Vaea Fifita; Patrick Tuipulotu, Brodie Retallick; Angus Ta’avao, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi.
Replacements: Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Nepo Laulala, Jackson Hemopo, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Josh Ioane, Braydon Ennor.