Scott Barrett has been handed a surprise start at blindside flanker for New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup semifinal against England on Saturday, with Ardie Savea shifting to the openside of the scrum.
Sam Cane, who had operated in a twin-openside combination with Savea since the All Blacks’ match against Australia in Perth this August, has dropped to the bench for the clash at Yokohama Stadium.
Barrett, who normally plays at lock, spent 15 minutes of the 46-14 quarterfinal victory over Ireland last Saturday playing in the No. 6 jersey in what coach Steve Hansen said had been a tactical decision.
A year ago, Barrett came on against England early in the second half at Twickenham to give the All Blacks extra options at the lineout, where they subsequently caused significant disruption on England’s throws.
“It had a wee bit to do with [Barrett’s inclusion in the semifinal],” Hansen told reporters in Tokyo. “Not significant. A wee bit.”
The 25-year-old’s inclusion in an otherwise unchanged starting side from that which beat Ireland in the last round adds an extra dimension to the All Blacks lineout and some additional size in the collision area.
“It’s strategic, not on form, because Sam has been playing lovely rugby,” Hansen said.
“However, we have made some decisions on what we want to do and how we want to play and that means we have made the change because of it.”
Patrick Tuipulotu will come onto the bench as the specialist lock replacement. Cane’s move to the bench has meant there was no place for Shannon Frizell, who had been tipped to replace the injured Matt Todd as loose forward cover.
Todd injured his shoulder against Ireland and Hansen ruled him out of contention for the semifinal earlier in the week.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who missed training earlier in the week with a calf muscle injury, was named for his 126th test.
“He’s good. Really good,” Hansen said.
“You want another one? He’s really, really good.”
Hansen also retained his young backline, which has an average age of 25 and will be anchored by Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf in the dual-playmaker role the coach has preferred over the last 18 months.
Sonny Bill Williams is set to again come off the bench into the midfield in the second half.
England name their team later on Thursday.
NEW ZEALAND: Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (C), Ardie Savea, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett.