Barrett cracks All Blacks starting side

Electric first-five Beauden Barrett will don the hallowed All Blacks No.10 shirt for his side’s Rugby Championship opener against Australia.

The 25-year-old Barrett dazzled for the Hurricanes in 2016, driving his side through sharp running and precise goalkicking to their first Super Rugby crown.

Barrett has traditionally been used by head coach Steve Hansen as the world champions’ super-sub, entering in the second half to wreak havoc on tired defences.

But the Taranaki-born Barrett’s club form was too irresistible for Hansen to overlook, successfully fighting his way into the starting XV alongside halfback Aaron Smith.

Chiefs fly-half and All Blacks incumbent Aaron Cruden, whose club side was defeated by the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby semi-final, moves to the bench.

Also on the pine will be Julian Savea, who after a sub-par Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes has been overlooked for a spot on the wing.

Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo will play out wide, with Israel Dagg at fullback.

Elsewhere, openside flanker Sam Cane has overcome concussion to take his place in the run-on side, but hooker Dane Coles will sit out the match after failing to recover from a rib injury.

Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris will take Coles’ place in the front row alongside veterans Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks.

Meanwhile, in the midfield, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa will line up as expected after injuries to Blues gun George Moala and star man Sonny Bill Williams.

Chiefs prop Kane Hames has also been drafted onto the bench in place of the crocked Joe Moody, giving him the chance to make his international debut.

Hurricanes duo Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara were also named substitutes after strong club seasons in the Kiwi capital.

Hansen took his troops to Sydney several days earlier than usual for the Rugby Championship curtain-raiser, which doubles as game one of the Bledisloe Cup.

He said the decision had paid dividends.

“This week has been about getting our preparation and attitude dead right,” Hansen said.

“There’s an expectation this group will bring real intensity, physicality and a high level of skill execution come Saturday.”

The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 but lost the Rugby Championship to the Wallabies in Sydney last year.

Hansen said his side had to earn the right to retain the Bledisloe for the 13th consecutive year.

“Both teams will be desperate to get their hands on it which will create added pressure,” Hansen said.

“It’s about embracing that pressure and taking it on.”

The All Blacks have played their trans-Tasman foes 155 times, with New Zealand winning on 106 occasions and Australia victorious 42 times.

ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Codie Taylor, Kane Hames, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea.

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