All Blacks change 7 starters for Argentina test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has made seven changes to its starting lineup for Saturday's Rugby Championship test against Argentina at New Plymouth.
Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder returns after a long battle with injury to play his first test since the 2015 World Cup final as part of a reorganized backline. T.J. Perenara will start at scrumhalf, Anton Lienert-Brown replaces Ryan Crotty at center and Israel Dagg returns on the right wing, replacing Ben Smith who is taking a break from international rugby.
Vaea Fifita will make his first test start in his second test at blindside flanker while Ardie Savea starts on the open side and Sam Cane drops to the bench. Luke Romano will make his first test start of the season, combining with Brodie Retallick in the second row.
Scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow makes his first appearance in 2017 on the bench as Aaron Smith is rested. Prop Wyatt Crockett also returns to the match 23 as Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala are retained as the starting front rowers beside hooker Dane Coles.
Milner-Skudder will make his ninth test appearance, almost two years after being one of the stars of the 2015 World Cup. He missed almost all of the 2016 season after shoulder surgery and has battled various injuries this year before reclaiming a starting role.
The All Blacks selectors have retained Sonny Bill Williams at inside center despite his poor performance in New Zealand's most recent Rugby Championship test against Australia. Williams made four handling errors in the first few minutes and also missed some crucial tackles in a match that the All Blacks won 35-29 after trailing with three minutes to go.
New Zealand is unbeaten in the Rugby Championship after two wins over Australia but needs a major improvement after its latest, faltering effort against the Wallabies.
"This test match is all about us taking opportunities," head coach Steve Hansen said. "It's an opportunity for our players to grow individually and collectively as a team, not only in our preparation throughout the week but in our performance on Saturday.
"We've taken some key learnings from our first two tests against Australia and now it's an opportunity to take those learnings into a test match against an old foe who we know pretty well now.
"Argentina are a dynamic, physical team who are growing their style of game. They are a proud people as well so they'll be desperate (after two losses to South Africa) so we'll have to be ready for that challenge."
Argentina has yet to beat New Zealand in 24 tests, coming closest when it achieved a draw in Buenos Aires in 1985.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Beauden Barrett, T.J. Perenara; Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Lima Sopoaga, Ngani Laumape.