Lima Sopoaga and James Broadhurst will make their test debuts against the Springboks in Johannesburg on Sat

First five-eighth Sopoaga and lock Broadhurst are the only two newcomers in an All Blacks side that still doesn’t include left wing Julian Savea because Steve Hansen wants him to improve his fitness before unleashing him against the Wallabies.

Sopoaga, 24, will travel to Ellis Park in the knowledge he is surrounded by familiar faces; halfback Aaron Smith plays with him at the Highlanders and Sopoaga was a team-mate of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith when he lived in Wellington.

ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT
Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga embrace in celebration after winning the Super Rugby title for the Highlanders.

“He’s someone we are comfortable with and confident he can run the cutter and be the driver we need him to be,” All Blacks coach Hansen said in reference to Sopoaga, who plays his provincial rugby with Southland.

“He plays up in the line, he is flat and he challenges the opposition. He has done that all season with the Highlanders. That’s all we expect him to do, just bring that form to this team and look after his role.”

Broadhurst, 27, will contest the lineouts against a Springboks pack missing aerial ace Victor Matfield, but with plenty of height in Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth.

“He’s had a pretty good season and it is a step-up physically – he is probably not going to get too many more bigger challenges from a physical point of view,” Hansen said.

“So he’s got to be right in the heart of it. The tight five is where test matches are won.”

A total of eight positional changes have been made to the side that started in the 39-18 victory over Argentina in Christchurch last Friday, with fullback Israel Dagg and left wing Charles Piutau the only men to keep their positions in the backline.

Ben Smith, who hasn’t played since co-captaining the Highlanders to victory over the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby final, has been named on the right wing – a vacancy left by the injured Waisake Naholo – to allow Dagg to make his third consecutive test start at the back.

Ma’a Nonu shuffles to his preferred No 12 role, which was filled by Sonny Bill Williams last week, so Hurricanes team-mate Conrad Smith can run at centre. Sopoaga replaces Dan Carter, who like Williams has been left at home.

Liam Messam gets an opportunity at blindside flanker in the absence of Jerome Kaino, who isn’t required for the match-day 23. Broadhurst replaces Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles will make his first start of the year to give hooker Keven Mealamu a break.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the plan was always to play Sopoaga at No 10 against the Springboks. Beauden Barrett, who has yet to represent the All Blacks this year, has been listed on the bench ahead of Colin Slade.

With just three matches left to give all 41 members of his squad an opportunity to play their way into the 31-man World Cup squad, Hansen and his selectors have had to put their trust in the uncapped players.

“A lot of thought went into it and once again it’s a juggling act isn’t it? You have to have the right amount of experience, but you also have got to find out if the young people in your group can cope with the pressure,” Hansen said.

“There’s no bigger game than this one. Ellis Park is a tough place to play and you will find out a lot about our athletes.”

AT A GLANCE

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Charles Piutau, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, James Broadhurst, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.stuff.co.nz

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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