All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made wholesale changes to the New Zealand team to face Scotland tomorrow, recalling the out-of-form Piri Weepu and introducing a new midfield lineup.
With Hansen intent on giving all of his 32-man squad a run in the opening two Tests of New Zealand’s European tour, only five players from the All Blacks’ last outing against Australia were included in the starting 15.
Weepu, who struggled for form with the Auckland Blues in the Super 15 competition, was handed a chance of redemption, replacing Aaron Smith at scrumhalf for the Test at Murrayfield.
Hansen also named veteran hooker Andrew Hore in the starting lineup, and gave Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Dane Coles the opportunity to earn their debut caps from an expanded eight-man reserve bench.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Otago Highlanders duo Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith, together in midfield for the first time, at the expense of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
While Ellison and Ben Smith are relatively inexperienced at Test level, with 12 caps between them compared with Nonu and Conrad Smith’s 136, they have worked well together at the Highlanders, hinting that Hansen is looking to the future.
The All Blacks coach resisted the temptation to rest captain Richie McCaw and star flyhalf Dan Carter, pointing out that the starting team was still a strong side boasting 556 Test caps, backed up by 267 on the bench.
He said his charges were excited about playing in front of a packed house at Murrayfield and downplayed Scotland’s poor record against New Zealand, with the All Blacks posting 26 wins and two draws in 28 meetings.
After tomorrow’s Test, they play Italy next Saturday, Wales on Nov. 24 and England on Dec. 1.