Sevu Reece to make All Blacks debut against Argentina

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Uncapped winger Sevu Reece has been named in New Zealand's starting side to face Argentina in a Rugby Championship test on Saturday, a selection likely to spark controversy.

Reece appeared in court last year charged with injuring his wife in a drunken assault. He escaped criminal conviction because a judge considered a conviction would have unduly affected his professional career.

Irish club Conaught tore up a contract it had signed with Reece but he was subsequently signed by Super Rugby champions the Crusaders. He topped the try-scoring list in Super Rugby this season.

In naming Reece in his squad for the Rugby Championship head coach Steven Hansen, a former policeman, said domestic violence "is not a gender." He subsequently corrected that statement but said Reece had become a better person since his court appearance.

"As the season has gone on, he has just got better and better as a player," Hansen said. "And as a person.

"We got interested enough to say 'hey we need to keep looking at this guy'. And then it got past that point and we said 'look, we are going to need to pick him'. Now we want to find out if he can take that next step. This game is the logical game to play him in."

Reece has attacking ability but has a weakness in defense.

The flanker Vaea Fifita, who was discarded last season, is back in the No. 6 jersey. The No. 1 choice, Liam Squire, turned down selection because injuries prevented him playing most of the Super Rugby season.

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Ngani Laumape will start at inside center beside Anton Lienert-Brown. The All Blacks took Sonny Bill Williams to Argentina while he was recovering from a hamstring injury and decided Thursday he isn't fit to play.

Williams has played only a handful of minutes at any level in the past two years. His sending off in the second test against the British and Irish Lions in 2017 cost the All Blacks that series.

Patrick Tuipulotu will combine with Brodie Retallick in the second row.

Angus Ta'avao and Ofa Tuungafasi will prop on either side of veteran Dane Coles in an untested front row.

A host of players, including Highlanders flyhalf Josh Ioane, Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson and Crusaders utility Braydon Ennor are set to make test debuts off the bench.

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Lineups:

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (captain), Vaea Fifita, Patrick Tuipulotu, Brodie Retallick, Angus Ta'avao, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Nepo Laulala, Jackson Hemopo, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Josh Ioane, Braydon Ennor.

Argentina: to be named.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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