Rookie prop Hames to start for NZ against South Africa
Kane Hames will start a test for the first time after being drafted into the New Zealand lineup for Saturday’s Rugby Championship test against South Africa as a replacement for injured prop Joe Moody.
Moody dislocated his shoulder last weekend during the 39-22 win over Argentina, and the All Blacks selectors promoted Hames directly into the starting lineup, leaving the veteran loosehead Wyatt Crockett on the bench.
The selectors also recalled frontline players for the clash with the Springboks, who are unbeaten in the Rugby Championship, after using an inexperienced lineup against Argentina.
Lock Sam Whitelock and flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire rejoin the forwards for the test at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium, while scrumhalf Aaron Smith, winger Rieko Ioane and center Ryan Crotty rejoin the backs.
Hames will face his toughest test since being plucked from relative obscurity last season when he was first selected for the All Blacks. The former New Zealand Maori representative was working as a rugby development officer for the Bay of Plenty provincial union in 2013 when he was asked to leave his office job to prop a scrum against the All Blacks during an opposed training session.
He so impressed the All Blacks props and coaches he was helped into a Super Rugby contract, first with the Christchurch-based Crusaders, then for the Hamilton-based Chiefs. He made his test debut against Australia during last season’s Rugby Championship and played his second test off the bench in New Zealand’s 35-29 win over the Wallabies last month.
Hames will form an inexperienced propping partnership with tighthead Nepo Laulala after the All Blacks lost both first-choice props, Moody and Owen Franks, to injuries.
The All Blacks pack is otherwise restored to full strength to face the Springboks, who are challenging New Zealand for the title after beating Argentina home and away and drawing with Australia in Perth last weekend. New Zealand has beaten Australia twice but has struggled to narrow wins in its last two matches.
”Our big focus this week has been about continual improvement, growing ourselves as a team, growing our game and how we want to play it and how we want to play against different opposition,” coach Steve Hansen said. ”We’ve had a bit of adversity and that will only make us better.”
Hansen said South Africa will fully test New Zealand’s current state of development.
”They scrummage well, they attack well with the ball and their defense is getting better,” he said. ”They’re always a tough opponent.”
Ioane’s return on the left wing forces Nehe Milner-Skudder to switch to the right after he played his first test in two years on the left wing last weekend. Aaron Smith resumes his halfback partnership with Beauden Barrett, who is still searching for form after struggling in recent matches against rush defenses.
Sonny Bill Williams has been retained at inside center, though his lack of form and confidence has hindered the All Blacks’ back play. Damian McKenzie will start again at fullback in the absence of Ben Smith.
Flanker Vaea Fifita, who was the star of last week’s win over Argentina, has missed a place in the match squad after yielding the blindside role to Liam Squire.
”Vaea had a very good game but … Liam’s the form man and we feel he’s doing a good job for us,” Hansen said.
Springboks coach Allister Coetzee named a lineup containing three changes to the one which drew with Australia.
Jean-Luc du Preez will start at openside flanker, replacing the injured Jaco Kriel, and Ruan Dreyer replaces Coenie Oosthuizen at tighthead prop.
Franco Mostern replaces Pieter-Steph du Toit to join captain Eben Etzebeth in the second row.
”Franco had five superb matches before he was rested last week,” Coetzee said. ”He is refreshed and I expect another strong performance from him as his high workrate is much needed.”
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.
South Africa: Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje; Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit , Francois Hougaard, Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende.