Perenara picked at scrumhalf for NZ vs. France
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) New Zealand has named T.J. Perenara to start at scrumhalf ahead of regular Aaron Smith in the test against France in Paris on Saturday.
Smith was regarded as the best in his position in the world only months ago but has struggled to recover his best form since his return from a two-match disciplinary suspension. Perenara has been promoted to the starting XV in his place in the hope of adding stability to a struggling All Blacks backline.
In other changes to the starting lineup that beat Ireland 21-9 in Dublin last weekend, Ryan Crotty returns from injury at inside center to renew his midfield partnership with Anton Lienert-Brown.
Israel Dagg moves from winger to fullback to replace the injured Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo takes Dagg's place on the right wing. Lienert-Brown moves out one place to outside center, replacing the suspended Malakai Fekitoa, and youngster Reiko Ioane joins the bench to provide cover in the outside backs.
Among the forwards, Matt Todd takes over at openside flanker from Sam Cane, who is injured, and Jerome Kaino returns from injury on the blindside flank.
Saturday's test is the All Blacks 14th and last in 2016. They have won 12 and lost one of their tests to date, suffering a single, historic, loss to Ireland.
Perenara's promotion was inevitable after Smith's poor form in New Zealand's two tests against the Irish. He was replaced early in both matches as the All Blacks lost the test in Chicago 40-29 and narrowly won the rematch. In both tests, Perenara steadied the team when he took the field.
Crotty's return also solves a midfield issue, restoring the best of the All Blacks' current available combinations.
''When it came to selecting this side, we had to make some changes because of injuries,'' coach Steve Hansen said. ''But we also looked to pick the best side possible for what we think will be a titanic battle against the French.
''We're excited by the unique challenge that comes with playing the French. They've improved immensely since the Rugby World Cup when we last played them and we're well aware they'll be looking to finish their autumn season with a big performance.''
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, T.J. Perenara, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden, Rieko Ioane.