Cruden named at flyhalf in All Blacks team to play
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Aaron Cruden will start at flyhalf in the All Blacks team against Wales in the first rugby test on Saturday, succeeding Dan Carter who has retired after wearing the No. 10 jersey in 112 tests.
Coach Steve Hansen on Thursday named his first team since last year's World Cup, retaining 10 players who started in the final against Australia at Twickenham.
Despite the retirements of Carter, captain Richie McCaw, centers Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu, prop Tony Woodcock and hooker Keven Mealamu, depriving the team of more than 700 test caps, Hansen still named a squad of 23 with 720 test appearances in total.
The squad contains only two uncapped players - Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea and Chiefs center Seta Tamanivalu, who are set to make test debuts from the bench.
''Whilst the opposition might believe that we're vulnerable because it's our first test and we have lost some experienced players, we don't have that mindset,'' Hansen said. ''We have some very excited players who have trained well during the week and are getting the opportunity to make a statement about who they are and what the All Blacks jersey means to them.
''We're well aware that this is a good Welsh team and not one that we'll underestimate and we're looking forward to the challenge that comes with playing test match football, which involves high-pressure moments and huge physicality.''
Hansen has named Sam Cane in McCaw's No. 7 jersey after earlier awarding the captaincy to Kieran Read who will lead the team for the 10th time in his 85th test. Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa will combine in the centers where Smith and Nonu previously formed the world's most-experienced test combination.
Joe Moody retains the place at loosehead prop that he earned when Woodcock was injured during the World Cup and Dane Coles remains the first choice at hooker, while Nathan Harris, in only his third test match, will take Mealamu's place on the reserves bench.
Luke Romano will start at lock beside Brodie Retallick, replacing Sam Whitelock who was ruled out of the match because of a hamstring strain. T.J. Perenara has been named as reserve scrumhalf ahead of Tawera Kerr-Barlow who has a broken hand.
The selection of Tamanivalu on the reserves bench was a minor surprise. The Fijian-born center is playing only his second season of Super Rugby but his form for the Hamilton-based Chiefs has been outstanding and he edges more experienced players.
Beauden Barrett will understudy Cruden at flyhalf, leaving Lima Sopoaga out of the matchday squad.
Meanwhile, captain Sam Warburton will return to Wales' lineup to the match as one of five changes to the team that lost 27-13 to England at Twickenham late last month.
Warburton has recovered from a shoulder injury to take his place in the Welsh lineup for the first of three tests against New Zealand alongside Gethin Jenkins, Ken Owens, Bradley Davies and Jonathan Davies who also missed the England match.
Uncapped flanker Ellis Jenkins has been named on the reserves bench while lock Alun Wyn Jones will play his 100th test.
''We have made five changes ... and there is an opportunity for a number of players,'' coach Warren Gatland said. ''It's an opportunity for a couple of boys to start and we are bringing in experience with Gethin, Ken and Bradley.
''In the midfield it's nice to have that experienced combination (Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies) back and the players who move to the bench will still have an impact on game day.
''We are under no illusions how tough the test series will be against the back-to-back World Champions but the players are also aware how important this tour is.''
Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Seta Tamanivalu.
Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Hallam Amos, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Ross Moriarty, Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies, Samson Lee, Ken Owens, Gethin Jenkins.
Reserves: Scott Baldwin, Rob Evans, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Ellis Jenkins, Gareth Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Scott Williams.