New Zealand gamble on two debutants in deciding test against British & Irish Lions
Jordie Barrett and centre Ngani Laumape to make their first test starts in Saturday’s decider
All Blacks selectors have taken a massive gamble by naming fullback Jordie Barrett and centre Ngani Laumape to make their first test starts in Saturday’s decider against the British & Irish Lions.
While New Zealand’s forward pack is unchanged from last weekend’s second test, won by the Lions to level the three-test series, the backline is reshaped by three personnel and one positional change.
Barrett has been handed a debut in one of the toughest tests the All Blacks have faced in recent years. He starts at fullback, while Israel Dagg moves from that position to the right wing, Julian Savea returns on the left wing and Laumape starts a test for the first time at inside centre.
Captain Kieran Read will become the seventh New Zealander to play 100 tests, leading the team after the All Blacks won the first test 30-15 at Auckland and the Lions won the second 24-21 in Wellington.
“It’s a special achievement to play just one test, so to play 100 is a remarkable effort,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “His playing ability speaks for itself and inspires others and he now joins a unique group of special All Blacks.
“We’d also like to congratulate Jordie on making his first test start in what will be a very memorable occasion for him.”
The changes announced by the selectors on Thursday have largely been forced by injuries and suspension.
Laumape will combine with Anton Lienert-Brown in the third midfield combination the All Blacks have used in the series so far.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 5, 2017
Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams started the first test two weeks ago, but Crotty was ruled out of the series with a hamstring injury suffered in that match.
Williams was been suspended for four weeks for a dangerous shoulder charge in the second test in which he became the first All Black to be sent off in a test for 50 years.
Laumape made his test debut as Williams’ replacement and is now awarded his first test start. A former schoolboy rugby star, he switched to rugby league and played for the New Zealand Warriors in Australia’s NRL competition until 2015 when he returned to rugby.
Wingers Waisake Naholo and Reiko Ioane have been dropped, resulting in the recall of Julian Savea who missed the first two tests.
Savea, who has scored 46 tries in 53 tests, lost his place to the 20-year-old Reiko Ioane who scored two tries in the first test but was found out by the Lions’ kicking game in the second.
Dagg also did not look comfortable at fullback in the second test and has returned to the wing, where he started the first test.
“This final match in the New Zealand Lions Series is going to be a cracker,” Hansen said. “It’s the series we expected it to be as the Lions have quality players.
“It now comes down to this Saturday, the winner takes all and that’ll create its own unique pressures and it’s going to be interesting to see how both sides cope with it.
“We’ve had a good week of preparation and are very excited by the opportunity that’s ahead of us and I’m sure the Lions are as well. We know it’ll be a physical and intense match but just as importantly it’ll be a game where both teams will have moments of momentum and the ability of everyone to adapt and adjust throughout the 80 minutes will be crucial.”
The Lions have beaten New Zealand in a series only once before, in 1971, and last weekend’s victory was their first in a test in New Zealand since 1993.