All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes Kieran Read, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea are New Zealand’s three best loose forwards and is keen to see the trio take on Australia after naming them as his starting back row for Saturday’s test in Perth.
While skipper Read has been New Zealand’s first choice number eight for the last decade and Cane has made the openside flanker spot his own since the retirement of Richie McCaw, Savea is not an experienced blindside flanker.
More usually found at openside or number eight, the hard-running, ball-stealing 25-year-old has been given a chance to lock up the number six shirt for the World Cup as Hansen continues his “risk and reward” experimentation policy.
“I don’t think there’s much risk and I think there’s a massive amount of reward,” Hansen explained when asked about his selection in Perth on Thursday. “Having your three best loose forwards on the park, there’s one reward for a start.
“Two really good ball carriers and another one who’s really not bad. You’ve got two people who can get over the breakdown really well and another one that’s not bad. When you combine them you come up with a pretty good package.”
Hansen made six changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash but retained Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf with Beauden Barrett again slotting in at fullback — another of his “risk and reward” gambits.
Lock Brodie Retallick dislocated his shoulder in the 16-16 draw with South Africa two weeks ago, forcing one of the changes with Scott Barrett coming back from a hand injury to join Sam Whitelock in the second row.
Sonny Bill Williams, who has been sent back to provincial rugby to improve his match fitness, was replaced at inside centre by Anton Lienert-Brown with Ngani Laumape coming onto the bench.
In other changes, Aaron Smith replaced TJ Perenara at scrumhalf and Dane Coles got the start at hooker with Codie Taylor backing him up in a reversal of their roles against the Springboks.
“It’s a one-two punch and we’re just trying to work out which way to play it,” Hansen said of his hookers, adding that the team for Saturday was “reasonably close” to the side he wanted to put out in the World Cup opener against South Africa.