All Blacks start Smith at 15 against Australia

New Zealand rugby head coach Steve Hansen has named his team for the opening Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup clash with Ben Smith at fullback.

Smith has been selected at 15 ahead of Israel Dagg who has missed out on selection entirely but will travel with the squad as cover along with Dan Carter who sits out this week.

Wyatt Crockett is at loosehead prop, in for the injured Tony Woodcock, and Conrad Smith, who was injured at the time, is back at centre. Prop Joe Moody is also a chance to make his Test debut off the bench.

Hansen said that a number of players have been in such strong form that it made his job a difficult one and highlighted Smith’s form over Dagg’s form.

“It was a tough team to select in many ways because we have a lot of players in good form. But in the end we selected the group that we felt could get the job done.”

Hansen said, in some cases, the form of some players in their respective positions had been so good the selectors just couldn’t ignore it.

“An example of that is Ben Smith. While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg’s performances at 15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level. The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances – when he gets the opportunity – to an even higher level.”

Hansen added: “We are really happy with our build-up and looking to put the finishing touches to our game over the next few days. The team is hugely excited at the challenge that awaits us this weekend.

“The Bledisloe Cup is an extremely important trophy for us all and there is a strong desire within the group to begin the Investec Rugby Championship on a positive note with a quality performance. We always enjoy playing Australia and this Test is no different.”

One notable omission from the matchday 23 is loose forward Liam Messam.

“He had another heavy workload during the Investec Super Rugby campaign and we felt that giving him another week off would be the best thing. He will come back in contention for selection next week,” Hansen explained.

Meanwhile, prop Charlie Faumuina was a late withdrawal from selection contention after coming down with an illness, while players not considered for selection due to injury were locks Dominic Bird and Patrick Tuipulotu and first five-eighth Daniel Carter.

New Zealand

1. Wyatt Crockett 2. Dane Coles 3. Owen Franks 4. Brodie Retallick 5. Samuel Whitelock 6. Jerome Kaino 7. Richie McCaw (c) 8. Kieran Read 9. Aaron Smith 10. Aaron Cruden 11. Julian Savea 12. Ma’a Nonu 13. Conrad Smith 14. Cory Jane 15. Ben Smith

Replacements : 16. Keven Mealamu 17. Ben Franks 18. Joe Moody 19. Steven Luatua 20. Sam Cane 21. TJ Perenara . Beauden Barrett 23. Malakai Fekitoa

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