4 changes to All Blacks' starting line for Springboks test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji-born winger Waisake Naholo will make his latest injury comeback among four changes to New Zealand's starting lineup for Saturday's Rugby Championship test against South Africa in Durban.
Naholo has been sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring strain which continued an injury-hampered start to his international career. He has played only seven tests since suffering a broken leg on test debut against Argentina last July and incurred another fracture on his return to Super Rugby.
Naholo takes over from Julian Savea on the left wing in the only change to the All Blacks' starting backline after last weekend's 31-17 win over Argentina.
There are three changes to the forward pack where Jerome Kaino returns from a shoulder injury to claim back the No. 6 jersey from Liam Squire. Matt Todd has been named ahead of Ardie Savea on the openside flank and Sam Whitelock returns at lock in place of Patrick Tuipulotu.
Ardie Savea drops to the reserves bench where prop Charlie Faumuina also takes the place of Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Center George Moala returns from injury to claim a place in the matchday 23, displacing Damian McKenzie who made his test debut against the Pumas.
New Zealand has named its strongest possible team though it clinched the title two rounds ago. The only absentee from its top lineup is scrumhalf Aaron Smith who has returned to New Zealand after receiving a team-imposed one-match ban for misconduct.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said Naholo had worked hard to be fit for his return.
"He's not an injury-prone athlete but it's been unfortunate for him," Foster said
"He's looking sharp, strong and in some ways it could possibly have been the hamstring was a little dodgy before the injury because he's looking faster now than he was before it."
Head coach Steve Hansen said the inclusion of fresh players is "vital at this time of the year."
"We're expecting to be facing a very confident South African team after their win over Australia and a torrid battle against our traditional foe. We're expecting them to throw the kitchen sink at us."
The All Blacks will be chasing their 17th-straight test win on Saturday — one off the tier won world record of 18 consecutive wins.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, T.J. Perenara, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.
Reserves; Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Lima Sopoaga, George Moala.