Victor Vito among three All Blacks changes

Flanker Victor Vito is the shock call-up in a record-breaking All Blacks team named for the Bledisloe Cup decider in Auckland on Saturday.

There are three changes for the Eden Park Test to the starting side who lost 27-19 to Australia in Sydney last week.

As expected, veterans Ma’a Nonu and Sam Whitelock are restored.

Nonu returns from a shoulder niggle to replace injured inside centre Sonny Bill Williams (buttock) while Whitelock is promoted from the bench in place of Luke Romano.

The big surprise is World Cup fringe prospect Vito’s selection on the blindside flank in place of Jerome Kaino.

The widespread conjecture that Kaino would be replaced by Sam Cane, matching Australia’s effective approach of fielding two specialist openside flankers, proved ill-founded.

Instead, athletic 28-year-old Vito has been rewarded for a fine Super Rugby season at No.8 for the Hurricanes.

Sixteen of his 27 Test caps have come off the reserve bench, including his only appearance this year, for the final quarter in the defeat of South Africa in Johannesburg.

Kaino drops to the reserves, where he is the lock cover, while three other bench changes are the return of hooker Keven Mealamu, prop Wyatt Crockett and utility back Colin Slade in place of Codie Taylor, Ben Franks and Beauden Barrett respectively.

The last Test before the All Blacks depart for their World Cup defence next month is notable for the world record 142nd cap handed to captain Richie McCaw.

The decorated openside flanker will move ahead of Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll, who surpassed former Wallabies halfback George Gregan 18 months ago.

It is appropriate that the All Blacks are also fielding their most experienced starting team in 531 Tests.

The 966 combined caps – at 64 Tests per player – is also believed to be a world record. It comfortably eclipses the next best All Blacks tally of 920 against Argentina in Christchurch last month.

McCaw and prop Tony Woodcock are both 34 while a third centurion, playmaker Dan Carter, is among three 33-year-olds in what is the oldest backline New Zealand have ever fielded. The others are Nonu and long-time centre partner Conrad Smith.

Carter, who became the first player to surpass 1500 Test points last week, will start his 88th Test match at five-eighth to equal the world record of Welsh pivot Steven Jones.

The Wallabies can win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002 if they can end a 29-year drought at Eden Park, where the All Blacks haven’t tasted defeat against any side since 1994.


All Blacks: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Victor Vito, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Colin Slade, Malakai Fekitoa.

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