Coach Steve Hansen left nothing to chance for world champions New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina, naming a full-strength, attacking side for Sunday’s clash at Wembley Stadium.
Hansen has stuck by a team that delivers his high-risk, high-reward policy in which the All Blacks have won 42 of 47 Tests since winning the last World Cup in 2011.
Led by Richie McCaw in his 143rd Test, the team contains an impressive 1013 Test caps and a further 316 on the bench where Hansen has gone for a five-forward, three-back split.
By sticking to a line-up that habitually adheres to his fast-paced policy, Hansen has dismissed the notion that World Cups can only be won by forward dominance.
“It was pretty straight forward,” Hansen said of the line-up. “We’ve selected what we believe is a very strong team.
“We have the utmost respect for Argentina who we know a lot more about now because of their involvement in the Rugby Championship. But it also means they know a lot more about us.”
The only issue up for debate had been the wing combination, with Waisake Naholo sidelined until their third pool match against Georgia as he continues to recover from a leg fracture.
Hansen has put his faith in fledgling international Nehe Milner-Skudder to partner Julian Savea.
It will be only the third Test for Milner-Skudder, a player with exceptional footwork who scored two tries on debut against Australia and is reminiscent of former All Blacks great Christian Cullen.
Savea, a destructive runner with the ball and known as ‘The Bus’ has 30 tries from his 35 Tests.
Ben Smith is at home at fullback behind a backline that also includes Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, the world’s most-experienced centre partnership, as well as halves Dan Carter and Aaron Smith.
The pack include six players who featured in the World Cup final four years ago with McCaw, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino as the loose trio, lock Sam Whitelock and props Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks.
Hooker Dane Coles and lock Brodie Retallick, the world player of the year last year, are the two newcomers.
Hansen said the squad has had a great build up since arriving in England and “there will be no excuses for not performing”.
The All Blacks have never lost to Argentina, winning 20 of the 21 matches played with one draw.
Ben Smith; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles,Tony Woodcock. Res: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams
Joaquin Tuculet; Santiago Cordero, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Juan Imhoff; Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Leonardo Senatore, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Pablo Matera; Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti; Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy (capt), Marcos Ayerza. Res: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Ramino Herrera, Mariano Galarza, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Martin Landajo, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino