AP – Winger Leicester Fainga’anuku has been named to make his test debut as part of a COVID-hit All Blacks team in tomorrow’s first rugby test against Ireland.
For the visitors, flyhalf Johnny Sexton will captain an experienced and consistent Ireland lineup in his 106th test match and combine with New Zealand-born scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park .
Fainga’anuku was one of the standout players for the Crusaders team which won the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title this season and will start on the left wing while his Crusaders teammate Sevu Reece will start on the right in the match at Auckland’s Eden Park.
Reece takes over that position from Will Jordan who is one of three All Blacks backs who currently are out of action with COVID-19. Fainga’anuku has been preferred on the left wing ahead of Blues winger Caleb Clarke who recently has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Head coach Ian Foster, who also is isolating after contracting COVID, has named Rieko Ioane and Quinn Tupaea in midfield, favouring that combination after centres David Havili and Jack Goodhue both tested positive.
Beauden Barrett has been named ahead of Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf, though Mo’unga had the upper hand when the two met for the Crusaders and Blues respectively in the Super Rugby final.
Scott Barrett, who captained the Crusaders this season from lock, will start on the blindside flank as the All Blacks anticipate a physical contest with Ireland’s large forward pack. Veterans Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick start in the second row.
Sam Cane will captain the All Blacks from the openside flank despite recent battles with injury and Ardie Savea has been named at number 8.
The powerful Chiefs backrower Pita Gus Sowakula is likely to make his test debut from the bench after a break season in Super Rugby.
Ofa Tuungafasi has been preferred over his Blues teammate Nepo Laulala at tighthead prop, though Laulala started throughout the season in that position.
Foster said when naming his team yesterday that it would be “doubly exciting” to play in front of a sellout crowd in Auckland.
“After what seems like a long time away from home it couldn’t be scripted better to be back in front of our fans for this match,” he said. “While this week hasn’t exactly gone to plan for us, our overall preparation has gone really well.
“We’ve prepared rigorously for this match, albeit only having a 10-day period together. We have huge respect for this Irish team and can’t wait to run out onto a packed Eden Park on Saturday.”