Winners and losers from New Zealand’s squad to face Australia

Ardie Savea NZ v Australia Bledisloe Cup 2022 - Alamy.jpg Credit: Alamy

Ardie Savea NZ v Australia Bledisloe Cup 2022 – Alamy.jpg Credit: Alamy

Following the announcement of New Zealand’s matchday squad to take on Australia in their opening Bledisloe Cup game, we pick out our winners and losers from the selection.

The clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is also the team’s final Rugby Championship Test and the All Blacks can clinch the title with another victory.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has kept changes to a minimum as they aim to continue their dominance over their trans-Tasman rivals.


New captain

Star number eight Ardie Savea has been rewarded with the captaincy for this crucial encounter after regular skipper Sam Cane was ruled out due to a to a neck strain sustained in the All Blacks’ victory over the Springboks in their Round Two encounter at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland earlier this month.

The decision to award Savea the captaincy is a fair one as he is no stranger to the role having captained the three-time world champions on four previous occasions.

Savea leads by example and as arguably the best back-row in the world, he is worth his place in the team and there should be a smooth transition into the captaincy role for him while he has shown in the past that the extra responsibility of leadership does not affect his form.

Although there is plenty of experience within the squad, The only real competition for the captaincy was veteran lock Sam Whitelock, who has been sidelined for the All Blacks’ previous Tests with an Achilles tendon injury. Whitelock is set to return to action in this fixture as he has been named amongst the replacements for this match, but few will argue that Savea is an adequate choice to lead the team at the MCG.

Dalton Papali’i gets a start

With Cane sidelined for this fixture, it’s Blues tearaway Papali’i who benefits from the first choice captain and openside flanker’s misfortune to replace him on the side of the scrum against the Wallabies.

Papali’i is no stranger to the role as he is an experienced Test campaigner who has already made 24 appearances for the men in black of which the clash against Australia will be his 14th in the run-on side.

Strong in the tackle and as a ball carrier, like Cane, the 25-year-old’s main string to his bow is his excellent breakdown work and he will have to hit the ground running in that department against the Wallabies at the famous ground.

Veteran trio included on the bench

Although Foster has kept the faith with the majority of his starting line-up which started against the Boks in Auckland – with Papali’i being the only change to the run-on side – he has made four changes to his replacements bench with three of those alterations the inclusion of experienced Test campaigners in Anton Lienert-Brown, Sam Whitelock and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.

Centre Lienert-Brown comes in for Braydon Ennor amongst the backline replacements while Whitelock and Tu’ungafasi take over from Tupou Vaa’i and Tamaiti Williams as cover at lock and loosehead prop respectively.

Lienert-Brown returns to action after missing the All Blacks’ first two Rugby Championship matches due to suspension while Whitelock is back from injury and Tu’ungafasi is recalled to the matchday squad after last featuring off the bench in the All Blacks’ Round One win over Argentina.

Having players with such vast experience coming off the bench is an indication of the depth which Foster has at his disposal and all three of those veterans are excellent players should add value if they get game-time at the MCG.

Cam Roigard set for Test debut

The selection of Roigard as the back-up scrum-half to Aaron Smith is somewhat surprising as Finlay Christie did little wrong when he came on during the final quarter of the All Blacks’ triumph against the Springboks but with the World Cup looming on the horizon, it’s fair that Roigard gets a chance to make his Test debut.

The 22-year-old’s selection is an excting and a deserved one as he is an example of a player who made full use of the opportunity presented to him with the Hurricanes in Super Rugby Pacific where he was one of the top number nines during that competition.

With the experienced TJ Perenara ruled out through injury, Roigard received more game-time at the Wellington-based franchise and he lit up that tournament with his outstanding attacking skill-set and crisp service to his outside backs. He will be hoping to replicate that form for the All Blacks this weekend.


Sam Cane out through injury

Foster has said that Cane’s injury is not a serious one and he should be back in action soon but the All Blacks’ on-field leader will be kicking himself that he will not be in action against the Wallabies at the MCG where more than 80,000 spectators are expected to be in attendance.

The skipper was withdrawn at half-time against the Springboks in Auckland – after a neckroll from the Boks’ captain on the day Eben Etzebeth – and Foster has said that his absence this weekend was a precautionary measure which means he would probably have played if it was not during a World Cup year.

Cane’s selection as captain has not been a popular choice amongst the New Zealand rugby public as many All Blacks fans feel he is not the best openside flanker in the country but he displayed good form in the victories over Argentina and South Africa and will be hoping to return to the side for the second Bledisloe Cup game in Dunedin on August 5.

Damian McKenzie drops down the pecking order

After returning to New Zealand and shining for the Chiefs in their run to the Super Rugby Pacific final, McKenzie got the nod as the starting fly-half for the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship opener against Los Pumas in Mendoza.

He had some nervy moments – especially off the kicking tee – in that game but eventually settled and did well on attack and finished with three try assists as the All Blacks cruised to a 41-12 victory.

However, he was dropped for the next game against South Africa as Richie Mo’unga was selected to start at fly-half while Beauden Barrett got the nod at full-back and there was also no place for McKenzie on the replacements bench as Christie, Ennor and Caleb Clarke were named as the backline replacements for that clash.

It’s a similar story this weekend, with Roigard and Lienert-Brown elevated to bench duty alongside Clarke with still no place in the matchday 23 for McKenzie.

Shaun Stevenson still waiting for Test debut

Stevenson was another on of the Chiefs’ stars during Super Rugby Pacific and was a shock omission from the initial All Blacks squad but was eventually called up shortly before their trip to Argentina after Crusaders duo Leicester Fainga’anuku and Will Jordan were forced to withdraw through injury.

Despite being able to play at full-back and on the wing, Stevenson is still waiting to make his All Blacks debut as Beauden Barrett is set to make his third successive start in the number 15 jersey, while the likes of Jordan, Mark Telea, Clarke and Emoni Narawa have been preferred to him on the wings.

Stevenson was one of the best attacking players in Super Rugby Pacific and will be desperate to be called up to the All Blacks’ matchday squad for their second Bledisloe Cup Test in Dunedin.

READ MORE: Winners and losers from Wallabies team to face the All Blacks in Bledisloe I

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