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Smith to start for All Blacks

Ben Smith has been given the nod at full-back ahead of Israel Dagg for New Zealand's opening Rugby Championship encounter against Australia in Sydney on Saturday.

Smith was the All Blacks' leading try scorer during last year's Rugby Championship and the versatile 28-year-old back shone when filling in for Dagg in the number 15 jersey in the June Test series against England.

Dagg, who has been hampered by injury and poor form this season, does not make the match day squad.

Veteran Tony Woodcock's need for shoulder surgery means Wyatt Crockett comes in at loosehead prop, while Conrad Smith, who fractured a thumb in the second Test against England, returns at inside centre and his replacement Malakai Fekitoa drops to the bench.

Steve Hansen has decided to rest Liam Messam altogether, so Jerome Kaino starts at blindside flanker, with captain Richie McCaw returning to his familiar openside role and IRB player of the year Kieran Read at number eight.

With Dan Carter sidelined with a leg injury sustained in the Crusaders' Super Rugby final defeat against the Waratahs, Hansen has gone with Aaron Cruden at fly-half despite public pressure to start Beauden Barrett at number 10 after his scintillating Super Rugby form.

Barrett has to be content with a place on the replacements' bench, and is joined by the likes of Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Steven Luatua and Sam Cane in providing back-up.

There is also a place on the bench for Joe Moody, who will make his Test debut if he takes to the field against the Wallabies.

The match, which is also a Bledisloe Cup encounter, has added significance for Hansen's side as victory would see them set a new world record of 18 consecutive Tests without defeat.

Hansen said: "It was a tough team to select in many ways because we have a lot of players in good form. But in the end we selected the group that we felt could get the job done."

He added: "While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg's performances at 15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level. The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances - when he gets the opportunity - to an even higher level."

New Zealand XV to face Australia: B Smith (Highlanders), C Jane (Hurricanes), M Nonu (Hurricanes), C Smith (Hurricanes), J Savea (Hurricanes), A Cruden (Chiefs), A Smith (Highlanders), K Read (Crusaders), R McCaw (Crusaders, Capt), J Kaino (Blues), S Whitelock (Crusaders), B Retallick (Chiefs), O Franks (Crusaders), D Coles (Hurricanes), W Crockett (Crusaders).

Replacements: K Mealamu (Blues), B Franks (Hurricanes), J Moody (Crusdaders), S Luatua (Blues), S Cane (CHiefs), TJ Perenara (Chiefs), B Barrett (Hurricanes), M Fekitoa (Highlanders).


From Belfast Telegraph