WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Chiefs center Quinn Tupaea will make his test debut Saturday in New Zealand’s one-off match against Tonga.
Tupaea will combine in midfield with regular winger Rieko Ioane as the All Blacks cope with a shortage of specialist centers. Jack Goodhue is out for the season with a knee injury, David Havili has an elbow injury, Braydon Ennor is sidelined and Ngani Laumape has taken up a contract in France after being repeatedly overlooked by the national team’s selectors.
Backrower Ethan Blackadder, prop George Bower and Scotland-born scrumhalf Finlay Christie are the three uncapped players on the New Zealand bench for Saturday’s match in Auckland.
Blackadder is the son of former All Blacks backrower and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.
Tonga has selected nine new caps in its starting lineup and four more on the bench for the test which is its last before facing Samoa in a two-match World Cup qualifying series.
The Tonga team includes and all-new back row comprising Solomone Funaki, who has played for Hawke’s Bay province in New Zealand, Mateaki Kafatolu from Wellington and Sione Tu’ipolotu from Auckland.
Nikolai Foliaki and New Zealand-based Fine Inisi will make their debuts in midfield. Scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua, who plays for Toulon in France after spending five years with the England club Newcastle, will captain the team.
The All Blacks will be captained by veteran lock Sam Whitelock — playing his 123rd test — in the absence of Sam Cane, who has a pectoral injury.
Luke Jacobson will start his third test at No. 8, with the Blues pair of Dalton Papalii on the openside flank and Akira Ioane on the blindside.
“Dalton gets a reward for a great (Super Rugby) campaign this year,” head coach Ian Foster said. “In Akira’s case, he started at six last year and it’s a chance for him to put a marker down. Luke played very well for the Chiefs and he is back in great form.”
Scrumhalf Brad Weber will also start for the first time in his eighth test, combining with flyhalf Richie Mo’unga. Damian McKenzie has been named at fullback with Crusaders teammates George Bridge and Will Jordan on the wings.
All three Barrett brothers are in the match-day squad with Scott starting in the second row and Beauden and Jordie on the bench.
The All Blacks will be playing their first test in 2021 after a disappointing 2020 season that included an historic first test loss to Argentina.
“Our whole group is excited,” Foster said. “After COVID disrupted our season last year we felt a little bit distanced from our fans, playing most of our games overseas, so what’s in front of us this weekend is very exciting.”
New Zealand will also play two home tests this month against Fiji.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Brad Weber; Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Angus Ta’avao, Dane Coles, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, George Bower, Tyrel Lomax, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett.
Tonga: James Faiva, Hosea Saumaki, Fine Inisi, Nikolai Foliaki, Penikolo Latu, Kailone Hala, Sonatane Takulua (captain); Sione Tu’ipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Mateaki Kafatolu, Zane Kapeli, Don Lolo, Sila Puafisi, Sam Moli, Duke Nginingini. Reserves: Siua Maile, Jethro Felemi, Tau Koloamatangi, Harrison Mataele, Viliami Taulani, Nasi Manu, Leon Fukofuka, Walter Fifita.
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