Rookie flanker Steven Luatua takes on enforcer role for All Blacks
Coach urges 22-year-old to step up and impose himself with aggression as New Zealand seek to end calendar year unbeaten
Rookie blindside flanker Steven Luatua has been given the opportunity to impose himself on an aggressive Ireland pack as the All Blacks seek to end their season unbeaten when the two sides clash on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Luatua has made a solid impression for the world champions since making his debut earlier this year and had been told by coach Steve Hansen he wanted to see more aggression and leg drive in the tackle from the rangy flanker.
"If I can be physical for the whole 80 minutes then I will walk away happy," Luatua said. "Ireland are a tough side and I have to be able to cope.
"I guess you have to have presence. When you walk off the field you have to believe that the opposition have felt your presence. That you have been present at the contact in defence and attack and you walk off feeling you have dominated the game. That's how I measure my game."
Luatua's promotion to the starting side, at the expense of Liam Messam, illustrates Hansen's desire to continue to develop young players ahead of the 2015 World Cup while they seek to complete a perfect season.
The All Blacks have won all 13 of their tests so far this year and a victory over Ireland, who have never beaten New Zealand, would make Hansen's side the first team in the professional era to go through a calendar year unbeaten.
Hansen made seven changes to the run-on team that defeated England 30-22 last weekend, concerned that fatigue at the end of a gruelling season could derail the quest to complete 14 wins from 14 tests.
"It's a reflection of the physical nature of the whole year really, particularly the last nine weeks. We've gone around the world twice - this will be our seventh test in nine weeks," he said.
While Luatua was one of five changes to the pack that beat England 30-22 last weekend at Twickenham, lock Luke Romano was a first choice earlier in the season before getting injured and tight-head prop Charlie Faumuina's play has seen him challenging Owen Franks for the starting role.
The vastly experienced Andrew Hore has replaced Keven Mealamu at hooker, while Wyatt Crockett has come in for the injured Tony Woodcock.
The match could be Hore's last in an All Blacks jersey with many expecting him to retire from professional rugby at the end of the tour. Hore has not received a contract from any of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.
Hansen has made just two changes to his backline with Cory Jane coming onto the right wing for the impressive Charles Piutau, while Aaron Cruden will start at fly half replacing the injured Daniel Carter.
"He's young, and if you look at the history with our young guys we've usually only given them a couple of big games and then let them step out and unfrazzle their heads and have a bit of a mental break," Hansen said about Piutau's non-selection. "We just think it's time to give him a wee breather. CJ [Jane] is fit and raring to go and Julian [Savea] has got improvement in his game too."
Scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, who has battled leg injuries over the past two seasons that have delayed his test debut, has been named on the bench.
"He was reasonably excited," Hansen said of Perenara's reaction at being selected.
"He just needs to contain that excitement and use it in a positive manner rather than being a bit like a demented moth around a lamp - don't get too energised and try to do everything at once."