TJ Perenara gets start ahead of regular scrum half Aaron Smith for All Blacks clash against France
Backup No 9 rewarded for strong form and promoted to run-on side to add stability to New Zealand backline
TJ Perenara will start at scrum half ahead of regular Aaron Smith for New Zealand, while France have brought in Camille Lopez for Jean-Marc Doussain at fly half for their rugby test this weekend.
Smith was regarded as the best in his position in the world only months ago but has struggled to recover his best form since his return from a two-match disciplinary suspension. Perenara has been promoted to the starting XV in his place in the hope of adding stability to a struggling All Blacks backline.
In other changes to the starting line-up that beat Ireland 21-9 in Dublin last weekend, Ryan Crotty returns from injury at inside centre to renew his midfield partnership with Anton Lienert-Brown.
Israel Dagg moves from winger to fullback to replace the injured Ben Smith, and Waisake Naholo takes Dagg’s place on the right wing.
Lienert-Brown moves out one place to outside centre, replacing the suspended Malakai Fekitoa, and youngster Rieko Ioane joins the bench to provide cover in the outside backs.
Among the forwards, Matt Todd takes over at openside flanker from Sam Cane, who is injured, and Jerome Kaino returns from injury on the blindside flank.
The test at the Stade de France is the All Blacks’ 14th and last for this year. They have won 12 and lost one of their tests to date, suffering a single, historic, loss to Ireland.
Perenara’s promotion was inevitable after Smith’s poor form in New Zealand’s two tests against the Irish. He was replaced early in both matches as the All Blacks lost the test in Chicago 40-29 and narrowly won the rematch. In both tests, Perenara steadied the team when he took the field.
Crotty’s return also solves a midfield issue, restoring the best of the All Blacks’ available combinations.
“We looked to pick the best side possible for what we think will be a titanic battle against the French,” coach Steve Hansen said. “They’ve improved immensely since the Rugby World Cup when we last played them.”
Lopez’s partnership with scrum half Maxime Machenaud is the seventh halves pairing selected by France coach Guy Noves in his 10th match in charge.
Noves kept faith with Fiji-born wingers Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci, who both impressed against the Wallabies. Diminished by a foot problem, fullback Scott Spedding paid the price for some poor choices during that match and made room for Brice Dulin.
There was only one change in the forwards, with loosehead prop Xavier Chiocci given the nod ahead of Cyril Baille.
Ireland captain Rory Best will win his 100th cap when he leads the team out on Saturday to play Australia at Lansdowne Road.
The 34-year-old hooker – who took over the captaincy permanently after iconic lock Paul O’Connell retired after the 2015 World Cup – will skipper a side showing four changes from the starting XV for last Saturday’s bruising 21-9 defeat by world champions New Zealand.
Centre Robbie Henshaw has concussion – after being clattered early in the first half by Sam Cane – and fly half Jonathan Sexton has not recovered from a hamstring problem that also saw him depart the game inside the first 30 minutes.
The Leinster duo have been replaced by another young centre Garry Ringrose and the more experienced Ulster fly half Paddy Jackson.
Iain Henderson come into the second row for Donnacha Ryan, who is not in the match day 23, and Keith Earls replaces Munster teammate Simon Zebo on the wing.
The Wallabies have reloaded with Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Rory Arnold, Reece Hodge, and Dane Haylett-Petty against Ireland to try to keep their grand slam bid alive.
All five were rested from playing France last weekend, when an experimental Australia side eked out a 25-23 win in Paris.
Dean Mumm’s line-out savvy for Australia gives him the edge over ball-carrying No 8 Lopeti Timani, and lock Rob Simmons replaces Adam Coleman, who was injured against Scotland.
“We want to focus a little bit more on our line-out this week, and the threat that Ireland might pose there – they’re very good in that area,” Australia coach Michael Cheika said. “Dean brings a lot of experience and quality in that area. But then we’ll probably lose a bit of Lopeti’s ball-carrying, too.”
Record try-scorer Bryan Habana, Willie le Roux, and Pat Lambie have been dropped by South Africa, which will field their most inexperienced backline in 22 years against Wales on Saturday.
A reaction from the Springboks was expected after they lost for the first time to Italy last weekend in Florence. They haven’t won seven of their last eight matches since late August.
Seven changes were made to the starting line-up.
South Africa’s new caps are Cheetahs flanker Uzair Cassiem, Bulls winger Jamba Ulengo and Lions centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg. The fourth, Sharks flanker Jean-Luc du Preez, is in the reserves.
Coach Allister Coetzee said the changes were borne from injuries, rotation, and a need to build for next year.
“We have a less experienced team, but I want to see some energy and an improved performance,” he said. “Our selection is also keeping in mind of the process and necessity to build towards 2019.”
Meanwhile, Wales coach Rob Howley said: “We are looking at bettering the 70 per cent win record at home.
“We are playing against a side who have lost against Italy. But we didn’t perform well against Japan, we won ugly, which sometimes in sport you take.”
Howley said Wales had endured a tough week after being criticised for their performance in last Saturday’s 33-30 win over Japan.
“We won the game against Japan but we came up short in terms of our expectation of our performance,” he said.
Only captain Sam Warburton is missing from the line-up.
“He had a stinger [nerve injury] in training on Tuesday afternoon. He felt he would get through the next 24-48 hours, but the medical team have decided it is much too early,” Howley said.