Wellington, New Zealand (AP) — Beauden Barrett will move to fullback and Richie Mo’unga will wear the No. 10 jersey in the Rugby Championship test against South Africa as New Zealand accommodates both playmakers in the All Blacks starting XV together for the first time.
Barrett, a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, and Mo’unga, who guided the Christchurch-based Crusaders to the Super Rugby title again this season, will both start Saturday in what may be a preview of New Zealand’s World Cup combination.
Fans have been calling for months for Mo’unga to be giving a starting spot for the national team after his confident performances in Super Rugby. At the same time Barrett appears to have lost some of his ability to control games from flyhalf; his kicking has become erratic under pressure and his passes are sometimes poorly timed.
That was evident in his performance against Argentina last week, when the All Blacks struggled to a 20-16 win.
Mo’unga will be starting a test for only the third time but already seems to have the confidence and the steadiness under pressure to cope in the test arena.
New Zealand Coach Steven Hansen has made sweeping changes to the lineup that started against the Pumas. In a totally revamped backline, T.J. Perenara will start ahead of Aaron Smith at scrumhalf, Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue will combine in midfield, Ben Smith will switch from fullback to right wing and Rieko Ioane will start on the left wing.
The return of rugby league convert Williams to the starting lineup will be contentious. The 33-year-old two-time World Cup winner has played only a handful of matches over the last two seasons, missing last weekend’s game because of a hamstring injury.
It isn’t clear on what evidence of form Williams has been chosen over better-performed players.
There’s also a new backrow combination with Matt Todd replacing last week’s captain Sam Cane on the openside, Kieran Read returning at No. 8 and Shannon Frizell starting in the troublesome blindside flank. New Zealand is struggling to find a reliable No. 6 after Liam Squire made himself unavailable.
The Crusaders frontrow of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks returns as a set package, while Sam Whitelock rejoins Brodie Retallick in the second row.
No place has been found for back rower Ardie Savea, who was New Zealand’s best player against Argentina, pressing out-of-form captain Read for the No. 8 role.
“Whilst we were a little rusty last week, we’re looking forward to seeing improvements in all areas of our game this week,” Hansen said. “The key for us (is) to continue building on the very good groundwork we’ve put in over the last couple of weeks.”
The Springboks made 12 changes to the lineup that started in last weekend’s 35-17 win over Australia at Johannesburg, with only lock Eben Etzebeth, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit and winger Makazole Mapimpi retaining their starting spots.
Backrower Duane Vermuelen takes over the Etzebeth as captain.
Scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who scored two tries against Australia, is on the bench while Faf de Klerk starts at No. 9 and Handre Pollard returns at flyhalf.
South Africa beat New Zealand 36-34 in Wellington last year, and the teams will meet in their opening match at the World Cup in September.
“We have the utmost respect for the All Blacks who are the undisputed No. 1 rugby team in the world,” Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus said. “We know we will have to be at our very best to be competitive against the All Blacks and that is why we have sent a group of players in advance to Wellington, so they could acclimatize.
“The New Zealanders are a very experienced and settled side while we have some catching up to do.”