All Blacks make big changes for 3rd test vs. France

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has named four uncapped players in its matchday 23 for Saturday's third rugby test against France and made six changes to its starting 15.

Jack Goodhue will start at center and Shannon Frizell on the blindside flank, while flyhalf Richie Mo'unga and lock Jackson Hemopo are on the bench.

New Zealand has already secured the three-test series — unconvincingly — after winning the first test 52-11 and the second 26-13.

In other changes, Sonny Bill Williams will make his first test appearance of the season at center after recovering from injury, and Damian McKenzie will start a test for the first time at flyhalf. McKenzie played 68 minutes of the second test at flyhalf after replacing Beauden Barrett who suffered a head injury which has ruled him out of Saturday's match.

Waisake Naholo will play on the right wing, allowing Ben Smith to return to his preferred position at fullback after playing as a winger in the first two tests. Jordie Barrett, who played at fullback in the Auckland and Wellington tests, drops to the bench.

Frizell will make his test debut in place of Liam Squire, who is injured, while Ardie Savea will start on the openside flank in place of Sam Cane. Luke Whitelock retains his place at No. 8. Hooker Liam Coltman has been named on the bench, potentially to make his second test appearance.

The changes made for the third test are seen as a gamble by coach Steve Hansen, who hasn't previously named more than three new caps in a test against a Tier One opponent.

While injuries to Beauden Barrett and flanker Liam Squire have forced his hand, Hansen is also responding to the All Blacks' performances in the first two tests. Its second test was especially poor as it played with a one-man advantage for 68 minutes after French fullback Benjamin Fall was sent off.

The All Blacks backrow was outclassed by its opponents in both tests and the All Blacks backline has been dysfunctional.

Captain Sam Whitelock of New Zealand All Blacks runs during their rugby test against France in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, June 9, 2018. (AP Photo/David Rowland)
Captain Sam Whitelock of New Zealand All Blacks runs during their rugby test against France in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, June 9, 2018. (AP Photo/David Rowland)

Hansen will hope the return of Williams at center will improve the backline but that seems unlikely in an untested partnership with new cap Goodhue.

The selection of McKenzie at flyhalf is his most contentious selection. McKenzie is a specialist fullback who Hansen and his fellow coaches are trying to adapt this season to flyhalf.

Hansen admitted McKenzie didn't "set the world on fire" in the 68 minutes he played in the position in Wellington. His selection was unexpected, ahead of flyhalf specialist Mo'unga who starts from the bench.

"One of the aims of the series was to continue to build depth across our squad and give players opportunities," Hansen said. "Now that we have secured the series, we think this is the right time to do that.

"It's an exciting mix of players with big-match experience, newer All Blacks who are continuing to grow their game, and four players who have been named in the test 23 for the first time."

France is expected to drop captain Mathieu Bastareaud when it names its lineup.

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New Zealand: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Ardie Savea, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jackson Hemopo, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo'unga, Jordie Barrett.

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