Smith gets first All Blacks fullback start
Ben Smith makes a long-awaited start at fullback for the All Blacks after Israel Dagg hobbled out of contention for the second Test against England.
Wing Julian Savea returns to a reshuffled New Zealand back three in the only change for the Test in Dunedin on Saturday.
The hosts can clinch the three-Test series following their tense 20-15 win in the first Test in Auckland.
Kieran Read spends another week on the sideline even though coach Steve Hansen previously said the world class No.8 had trained freely last week and showed no further evidence of concussion symptoms.
Powerhouse left wing Savea was the other key omission at Eden Park but has shaken off a knee complaint to return, push Cory Jane to the opposite wing and Smith to fullback.
Dagg is rested, having struggled with a patella niggle for the last month.
Experienced fullback Dagg scored 12 tries in his first 23 Tests but has gone tryless in his next 16.
The attacking verve that marked the 26-year-old’s early Test forays has made way for a more conservative style of play in the 18 months since he scored his last try, against Scotland in Edinburgh.
Smith has stockpiled running metres and line breaks from fullback for the Highlanders over the past two Super Rugby seasons and could be set to unleash from deep in the comfortable surrounds of his home pitch against the English.
It is the 28-year-old’s first Test start at the back, having begun 12 of his 27 Tests on the wing, six at centre and nine off the reserve bench.
Aaron Cruden is retained at first five-eighth despite the strong challenge being mounted by Beauden Barrett while there are no changes to the forward pack, which was given a torrid workout at Eden Park.
Among the All Blacks’ best last week was No.8 Jerome Kaino, who will play his 50th Test.
The bench is unchanged, with lock Patrick Tuipulotu once again getting a chance to earn his first cap after being unused last week.
Hansen says a change in attitude, rather than personnel, is needed if they are to improve on a patchy start to the season.
“We have worked hard on our skillsets, attitude and the detail in our game, which wasn’t up to All Blacks standard last week,” he said.
Tickets have sold out at the 28,500-seat indoor stadium.
Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa