All Blacks drop Julian Savea for first Lions Test
Twenty-year-old outside back Rieko Ioane will make his first Test start for the All Blacks, who've dropped left-winger Julian Savea for Saturday's opening Test against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park.
Savea scored his 46th try in 53 tests against Manu Samoa last Friday, but the 26-year-old has missed out on the 23 altogether as Ioane gets his chance in the number 11 jersey.
Ioane has already played the Lions twice on tour so far with the Blues and the Māori All Blacks, and has been in superb form in Super Rugby after making two appearances off the bench for the All Blacks on last year's end of year tour against Italy and France.
Experience is the key in the midfield, with Sonny Bill Williams to start at second-five and Ryan Crotty at centre with a combined 60 Tests between them, while in-form Anton Lienert Brown is relegated to the reserves.
Crotty's returning from a rib injury while Williams missed the start of the Super Rugby season because of a ruptured Achilles, but coach Steve Hansen's confident they'll be up to the challenge.
"They've both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they're really excited at what's ahead of us," Hansen said.
Leaving out the likes of Savea and Lienert-Brown, who've done little wrong in the Test arena, were hard calls to make for Hansen.
"This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions," he said.
"But in the end, the three selectors felt this was the best combination to take on the Lions in the first Test."
Captain Kieran Read's got the all-clear from a broken thumb to play his first game in almost two months from number eight, and will bring up his 100th Test match for the All Blacks if he features in all three games against the Lions.
Aaron Cruden has been bracketed with Lima Sopoaga as back-up first-five after suffering knee ligament damage in the Chiefs win over the Hurricanes 12 days ago, with a final decision to be made tomorrow.
All Blacks team to play the Lions:
1. Joe Moody, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Jerome Kaino,7. Sam Cane, 8. Kieran Read (c), 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Beauden Barrett 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Ryan Crotty, 14. Israel Dagg, 15. Ben Smith
Reserves: 16. Nathan Harris, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Charlie Faumuina,19. Scott Barrett, 20. Ardie Savea, 21.TJ Perenara, 22. Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23. Anton Lienert-Brown