Cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams was benched and fellow center Ryan Crotty missed out altogether as New Zealand named their team for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Ireland.
In-form Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue got the nod for the defending champions in midfield, coach Steve Hansen saying it had been a tough proposition to sort out his center combination.
“We’ve got 31 people available for selection. Every team you pick you look at the opposition, what you’re after and the midfield was no different,” Hansen said on Thursday.
“You come down to having more people good enough to start than you have to leave out. In this case, Ryan’s missed out. That doesn’t mean to say that if we’re fortunate enough to go further in the tournament that he won’t make the next team.
“But just for this game, we thought the combination of Jack, LB and Sonny was the one for us.”
Hansen added that Lienert-Brown had been in “really good form.”
“It was a no-brainer to pick him,” he said.
Two-time World Rugby player of the year Beauden Barrett starts at full-back, with relatively inexperienced wingers George Bridge and Sevu Reece completing the back three.
Richie Mo’unga is named at fly-half alongside regular scrum-half Aaron Smith.
Kieran Read captains from number eight, where he lines up with Sam Cane and Ardie Savea. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock pack down in the boiler house, with Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala propping up Codie Taylor.
“There’s a lot of energy and excitement in the team which is normal for this stage of the tournament where the winner takes all. It will add extra pressure to both sides,” said All Blacks coach Hansen.
“We feel we’ve selected a great mixture of talent in our 23, who are in great form, and the squad includes many players who have a lot of Rugby World Cup knockout match experience.”
The All Blacks have won 28 and drawn one of their 31 previous encounters against Ireland, but have lost two of the last three games.
“One of us will be going home but that’s just the cold, hard facts of the World Cup,” Hansen said of Saturday’s last-eight game in Tokyo. “We’ve experienced it ourselves in 2007 and there are no guarantees we won’t experience it again.
“Ireland are in a situation where they haven’t gone past the quarter-final. They know what it’s like to go home, so they’ll try their darndest not to and we’ll be the same.
“You just hope that it becomes a good game of rugby that excites the tournament and is not affected by cards and at the end of it no one’s got any excuses. And then you have to take your fate on the chin.”
Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Nepo Laulala, Cody Taylor, Joe Moody
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett