Beauden Barrett out injured, Lima Sopoaga to start for All Blacks against Wallabies

Deciding not to risk Beauden Barrett's welfare has resulted in the door to the All Blacks No 10 position being flung wide open for Lima Sopoaga.

Taking the liberty of ordering champagne ahead of a test against the Wallabies wouldn't be terribly appropriate for an All Black, but you could understand why some of Sopoaga's staunchest allies might decide to imbibe in the fizzy stuff after learning of his promotion to first five-eighth for the test in Brisbane on Saturday night.

With Barrett still suffering dizziness and headaches following the 25-24 win over the Springboks on October 8, he has been scratched; now Sopoaga will make just his second run-on start in what is set to be his 13th test appearance since his debut 27 months ago.

Rather than name a specialist first-five on the bench - the uncapped Richie Mo'unga had been invited to train with the squad this week - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his selectors will ask fullback Damian McKenzie to provide cover.

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Hansen has made one other change to the run-on side that beat the Springboks, replacing injured right wing Nehe Milner-Skudder with Waisake Naholo.

The promotion of Sopoaga has resulted in Anton Lienert-Brown joining the substitutes bench, and reserve halfback TJ Perenara switching places with Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Openside flanker Matt Todd, who wasn't picked in the original Rugby Championship squad, or the series against the British and Irish Lions, has again been preferred ahead of Ardie Savea as a back-up to Sam Cane.

Getting this rare start at first-five, and therefore being given the responsibility of calling the plays and liaising with captain Kieran Read, offers Sopoaga the opportunity to reinforce why he must feature regularly in the selectors' discussions ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

He has certainly learned all about the virtues of having to be patient.

Since a cracking test debut against the Springboks in Johannesburg in July 2015, Sopoaga had to soak-up the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup squad a few months later; and when Dan Carter left for France following the tournament, Sopoaga was still considered the third-ranked No 10 behind Aaron Cruden and Barrett.

Cruden's recent exit to France after Super Rugby resulted in Sopoaga being considered the second best playmaker in New Zealand. Now, for 80 minutes at Suncorp Stadium, a venue where the Aussies in recent years have fought like wild men against the New Zealanders, he will be the top dog.

Although Sopoaga is understood be one of those men who doesn't lack confidence, playing outside Highlanders team-mate Aaron Smith should help settle any nerves if the Wallabies are able to disrupt the All Blacks' pack and cramp the first-five's style.

Having a big unit in Sonny Bill Williams running off his outside shoulder should also be of some comfort.

"He [Sopoaga] has been pretty influential every time he had played for us this year," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said this week.

"Overall, he is in a good spot."

A victory at Suncorp will result in a 3-0 series wipe-out of the Aussies.

Although locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano are unavailable for personal reasons, and Barrett is injured, the selectors have taken no risks by enlisting the strongest side possible.

"It will be another great opportunity for this young team to show what they have learned throughout the year," Hansen stated. "And playing at Suncorp Stadium will be another fantastic learning experience for them all."

ALL BLACKS: Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili.

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 - Stuff

Fuente: WAIKATO TIMES