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All Blacks Team Naming: Opinion

14:57:00, Thu 14 Sep 2017 Jim Kayes 170909All Blacks Pumas _45

Beauden Barrett was never going to be dropped. A bad night with the boot doesn't make the World Rugby player of the year a dud.

Saturday's Rugby Championship test against South Africa in Albany will be Barrett's 21st start at first five for the All Blacks since taking over from Dan Carter after the 2015 World Cup.

It should surprise no one, not even his staunchest critics, that he is there. While Barrett had an off night with the kicking tee in New Plymouth last week, he's a proven winner with the All Blacks.

Since Carter left, with Barrett at 10, the All Blacks have won 17 tests, lost to Ireland, and lost and drawn with the British and Irish Lions. They also scored 766 points - or 38.3 points per test.

While he was astray with a couple of kicks at Yarrow Stadium Barrett also became the first international player this year to move past 100 points and has now scored 401 points for the All Blacks - fourth overall.
While Barrett has moved from the bench to a starting role, Wyatt Crockett continues to be viewed as a finisher.

He will come off the bench for the 40th time in his 65th test on Saturday, meaning he's started only 40 per cent of the time and only twice in 19 tests since the World Cup final. It's a sign of the times and others have had a greater super-sub than Crockett.

Fellow prop Ben Franks played in 47 tests but started only seven of those, coming off the bench 85 per cent of the time. He will assuage that with the two World Cup winning medals he has at home.

Similarly, 2011 World Cup hero Piri Weepu started only 25 of his 76 tests (64 per cent from the bench) and was the first player to really be officially dubbed "a finisher" by the All Blacks coaches.

Shifting from the bench to a regular starting role can be a struggle as Ardie Savea can attest already. He's played in 19 tests but started only four of them (78 per cent off the bench) and that lopsided stat may take a while to change. Sam Cane is firmly established as the first choice openside flanker and when he's fit, Matt Todd has been preferred four times ahead of Savea in the past years.

It's a compliment to Savea's versatility as he can play any of the three loose forward positions and reflects his ability to make an impact when he comes on, but deep down he will want to start.

Kane Hames will do that at loosehead prop for the first time in his third test as coach Steve Hansen looks to plug the holes left by Charlie Faumuina's shift to France and the injuries to Owen Franks and Joe Moody.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says it's easier for Hames to start as it means they are making just the one change to the front row, noting that Crockett does "a good job" off the bench. Hames did well off the bench against Australia in Dunedin after Moody and Nepo Laulala had destroyed the Wallabies' scrum - but this is South Africa, this is a vastly different challenge.

To say the Springboks pride themselves on their scrum is to say the French love red wine. Both are essential to their very existence. Nullify the Springbok scrum and you've taken away their mojo. They will struggle to win if they can't scrum because it's such a big part of their rugby DNA.
The All Blacks are different. They want to scrum well, and pride themselves on their set piece, but they will find others ways to attack, other ways to win.

They are so good from counter attack that they're almost comfortable for the other team to have the ball, backing themselves to win it at the breakdown or to counter attack from kicks. They have an exciting back three in that respect this weekend. Nehe Milner-Skudder had the rugby world at his feet when he helped the All Blacks win the 2015 World Cup and was named World Rugby's breakthrough player of the year.
But he will play just his second test since that final (after he started against Argentina last week) having missed all of last year through injury and the June tour by the British and Irish Lions.

Milner-Skudder scored a try against the Pumas - his ninth in as many tests - and with Rieko Ioane on the other wing and Damian McKenzie at fullback they have plenty of attacking potential. The challenge will be how they deal with the Springboks' kicking game. None of the three have a punt as big as Israel Dagg's' so expect the All Blacks to run the ball back a lot.