AAP Rugby

All Blacks near full strength for Boks

By AAP Newswire

The All Blacks back three has been revamped again to defuse a likely Springboks aerial assault when rugby's greatest Test rivalry resumes in Wellington on Saturday.

Coach Steve Hansen has made nine personnel changes and a positional switch to his starting team for the fourth-round Rugby Championship Test.

The backline has completely changed from the experimental group that saw off Argentina 46-24 in Nelson.

Much interest centres on the outside back composition, where speedster Rieko Ioane returns on the left wing while Ben Smith alternates for the fourth time this season, shifted to the right wing to make room for lanky fullback Jordie Barrett.

The trio will be tasked with handling an expected South African high ball approach.

"They'll kick the ball a wee bit at us. It's an aerial game and we've got two big aerial athletes (Barrett and Smith)," Hansen said.

"We don't have to explain why Reiko's there. He's best player in his position in the world, I think. He'll give us some genuine gas."

Ioane has shaken off a hamstring niggle and Hansen said the 21-year-old has clocked 37km/h in speed tests, suggesting he is fully fit.

Hansen has unveiled close to his strongest available team.

Beauden Barrett returns at five-eighth in place of Richie Mo'unga, in his first appearance since a four-try, 30-point haul against Australia at Eden Park.

Aaron Smith is back at halfback while Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty are the latest midfield combination.

Sonny Bill Williams was initially named on the bench but the veteran midfield back was ruled out on Thursday, having struggled all week with the effects of tonsillitis. He has been replaced by Jack Goodhue.

Up front, first-choice flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire are recalled while Sam Whitelock replaces injured lock Brodie Retallick.

Whitelock's return means three centurions feature in a battle-hardened pack, alongside Owen Franks and captain Kieran Read.

Hansen wants his team to keep unleashing on attack, having racked up 37 tries and 251 points in comfortably winning their first six Tests of the year.

However, he wants it done in tidier fashion.

"We are starting to ask some real good questions with our attacking game," he said.

"Is it error-free? No. Will it ever be error-free? Probably not.

"But if there's a few less of those, that would be good and that's what we'll strive to do."

ALL BLACKS: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu'inukuafe. Res: Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Jack Goodhue, Damian McKenzie.