Bird, Halai to make debut
Dominic Bird (Getty Images)
Tokyo - Inspirational skipper Richie McCaw and star fly-half Dan Carter were Thursday named in an experimental All Blacks' team that features two Test debutants, ahead of their match against Japan in Tokyo this weekend.
The stellar duo both return from injury for the All Blacks' first ever Test against the Brave Blossoms on Japanese soil at the sold-out Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Saturday,
With the All Blacks also set to face France, England and Ireland in their four-Test tour, coach Steve Hansen opted to use his fringe players in a starting 15 that features 14 changes from the team's last outing against Australia.
"It's a great opportunity for our 'less capped' players to drive the All Blacks' week and preparation... selectors have been very mindful of using this game to gather some more information on our younger players," he said.
While Hansen has allowed eight of his top players to skip the Tokyo Test and head straight to Europe, he insisted the All Blacks were not taking Japan lightly and would have to get the basics right against the Brave Blossoms.
"We are expecting the Japanese to be very competitive and it will be important that we respect them and engage them in the physical aspects of the game before attempting to play too much 'razzle dazzle'-type rugby," he said.
Winger Frank Halai and lock Dominic Bird were both given debut Test caps in the run-on side, while fellow newcomers prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and loose forward Luke Whitelock were named on the bench.
Halai will partner Auckland Blues teammate Charles Piutau on the wing, with Ben Smith and Francis Saili forming a new-look combination in the centres.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow gets his first Test start at halfback, while Beauden Barrett stands in for regular fullback Israel Dagg.
Even McCaw's inclusion has an experimental look to it, with Hansen slotting him in at number eight to give his understudy Sam Cane more game time in the openside flanker's seven jersey normally reserved for the skipper.
In the forwards, Bird -- who at 2.06 metres (six foot nine) is set to become the tallest All Black ever -- will line up alongside fellow lock Jeremy Thrush.
The match against Japan sold out in an hour.
15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Ryan Crotty