Sopoaga named at 10 in All Blacks team to play Australia
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) New Zealand flyhalf Lima Sopoaga will start a test for the first time since his debut in 2015 as a replacement for the injured Beauden Barrett in Saturday's third Bledisloe Cup test against Australia at Brisbane.
Sopoaga was named Thursday to start in the No. 10 jersey for only the second time in his 12-test career in one of two changes to the All Blacks backline forced by injuries. Waisake Naholo returns on the right wing for his 14th test, replacing Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.
Barrett left the field after suffering a knock to the head in New Zealand's Rugby Championship test against South Africa two weeks ago. He passed a head injury assessment but has since reported symptoms of concussion, including headaches.
No flyhalf replacement has been named on the bench for Saturday's match. Instead, fullback Damian McKenzie will cover the position. Scrumhalf T.J. Perenara and center Anton Lienert-Brown return to the reserves.
Coach Steve Hansen said the team was the strongest he could name, given injuries and the unavailability of key players. Props Joe Moody and Owen Franks are already sidelined for the season and locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano have remained in New Zealand for personal reasons.
Scott Barrett will again partner Sam Whitelock in the second row and Patrick Tuipulotu has been named as the lock replacement. Sam Cane will play his 50th test at openside flanker while captain Kieran Read will make his 100th test start in his 107th test.
Hansen said the team was ''pretty straightforward, the best we can pick to face a tough old opponent.''
New Zealand has already won the Bledisloe Cup series, beating Australia 54-34 and 35-29 in the first two tests. Hansen said Australia would be a tougher opponent on Saturday, having shown steady improvement throughout the Rugby Championship.
''Both teams have their own goals and expectations,'' Hansen said. ''From Australia's point of view, they'll be desperate to win as they haven't done so for some time.
''For us, our goal is to never be satisfied with where we're at and that means it's greater than just the outcome. It's about how we play individually and collectively. We're always striving to get better every game and this week is no different.''
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, T.J. Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili.