All Blacks name Moala for debut in Apia

George Moala will make a surprise start for the All Blacks in the Test against Samoa in Apia while three reserves are also in line to make their debut.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been forced to name a new-look team for the historic Test on Wednesday because of the unavailability of nearly half his initial squad of 41 named last month.

Seventeen players involved in Saturday’s Super Rugby final between the Highlanders and Hurricanes were out of contention for selection while a handful of others are unavailable with injury.

It resulted in Hansen naming eight additional players to join the squad at staggered intervals.

That included Blues utility back Moala, who will start on the right wing.

A former Tongan under-20 international, he has represented Auckland since 2011 and made his Super Rugby debut a year later, becoming a potent strike weapon with his powerful running.

The 24-year-old stood out with his consistent ability to break the line in the midfield in what was a disappointing season for the Blues.

The three new faces on the bench are Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai, Chiefs halfback Brad Weber and Crusaders prop Nepo Laulala, who has signed to play for the Chiefs next year.

Captain Richie McCaw is named to start on the openside flank in a what is close to a first-choice starting forward pack boasting 638 caps between them.

In the only departure from what was Hansen’s preferred pack last year, Luke Romano starts at lock ahead of world player of the year in 2015 Brodie Retallick, who is on the reserves bench.

There is a return at halfback for Andy Ellis, who benefits from the unavailability of all three initial squad members. The 31-year-old’s last Test was the 2011 World Cup final win over France.

He links with long-time Crusaders teammate Dan Carter in the halves while Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams were the only available midfielders so earn starts.

Fullback Israel Dagg will start his 47th Test, having shaken off a calf injury which as prevented him playing since April 11.

Reserve hooker Hika Elliot completes a remarkable comeback from neck surgery 18 months ago, earning a position on the bench.

Hansen pronounced himself happy with the team’s preparation before they leave for Samoa on Monday.

“With it being a new season and our first Test of the year, we have tried to keep things as simple as possible and are now looking forward to getting our season underway,” he said.

Meanwhile, squad members Tawera Kerr-Barlow (halfback) and Joe Moody (prop) have been released to play for the Maori All Blacks’ game against Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

The remaining All Blacks squad members will travel to Samoa with the exception of flanker Sam Cane, who is deemed in need of a rest.

ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, George Moala, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Charles Piutau, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Matt Todd, Brad Weber, Colin Slade, Charlie Ngatai.

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