All Blacks opt for experience

So this is how the post-World Cup All Blacks look – and there’s not a single new cap in the starting team.

Coach Steve Hansen and his co-selectors have opted for experience in their team for New Zealand’s first Test against Wales at Eden Park on Saturday – the first outing since they retained the World Cup last year.

Nine players who began the World Cup final have been retained in the run-on side.

Of the six missing from the Twickenham decider, skipper Richie McCaw has retired, and backs Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith have headed overseas.

Their replacements are largely as expected, with Sam Cane taking over the No.7 jersey from McCaw, five-eighth Aaron Cruden returning to Test rugby after injury ruled him out last year and Ryan Crotty recalled to partner Malakai Fekitoa in the centres.

The two other changes are injury-forced.

Waisake Naholo comes in at wing for Nehe Milner-Skudder, who is recovering from a long-term knee problem, while Luke Romano takes over from lock Sam Whitelock, ruled out this week because of a hamstring complaint.

There are two new faces on the bench in exciting loose forward Ardie Savea and Chiefs centre Seta Tamanivalu.

Hansen said selecting the side was “pretty much straight-forward”, adding that “most of the pundits could have picked the team themselves”.

Wales haven’t defeated New Zealand since 1953, but Hansen, a former Wales coach, said their long wait would end one day and the All Blacks had to make sure they fronted up at Eden Park.

“This is a really good Welsh side and it could happen this weekend if we don’t turn up and play as well as we can,” he said.

“They’re desperate to get a win and desperate to rewrite some history, so that makes them a really dangerous beast.”

New Zealand have traditionally been slow starters to an international season, but Hansen hoped an extra week’s preparation would be translated into a more polished season-opening performance.

The year’s Super Rugby program has allowed for a two-week build-up.

“It has been a lot easier having that extra time, because there’s a lot information that you have to put on the table and there’s a lot of information that you have to discard,” he said.

“We’re a lot further down the road than we normally are.

“But the first Test, whatever we do in the weekend, I know we will be better for the game, and better because of the game, for the next one.”

All Blacks: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Seta Tamanivalu.

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