All Blacks name Barrett at flyhalf for Tonga test

STEVE McMORRAN
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New Zealand Rugby RWC Squad

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, left, and selector Grant Fox react following the announcement of All Blacks squad for the Rugby World Cup at Eden Park, in Auckland, New Zealand, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Hansen has dropped 108-test veteran prop Owen Franks and gambled on the age and fitness of other players in naming a 31-man All Blacks which will attempt to win the Rugby World Cup for the third consecutive time. (Jason Oxenham/New Zealand Herald via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Head coach Steve Hansen will give game time to several under-worked members of his Rugby World Cup squad when the All Blacks face Tonga in their last warm-up match at Hamilton on Saturday.

Hansen has made numerous changes to the lineup that beat Australia 36-0 in the second Bledisloe Cup test, notably moving Beauden Barrett from fullback to his preferred position at flyhalf in the absence of Richie Mo'unga, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.

Veteran Ben Smith, in is 80th test, returns to his best position at fullback after playing recently on the right wing to allow Mo'unga and Barrett to feature as dual playmakers.

Hooker Codie Taylor, flanker Matt Todd and scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, who generally start on the bench, are promoted to the starting 15 while Liam Coltman, the third hooker in the squad, and rookie back rower Luke Jacobson are named as reserves.

Uncapped flyhalf Josh Ioane is also on the bench, though he is not a member of Hansen's 31-man World Cup squad.

"It's great to get the squad together and start preparing for what will be a great match against Tonga," Hansen said. "We know the Rugby World Cup is just around the corner but we are focusing on 'right here, right now.'

"Tonga will be targeting this game in a bid to build momentum into their Rugby World Cup campaign, and so are we, as it's going to be important for both teams to head into the tournament with confidence."

Meanwhile, Tonga captain Nasi Manu is recovering from a pectoral muscle strain which will delay his return to international rugby after a battle with testicular cancer.

Manu will now likely make that return in Tonga's first match at the Rugby World Cup, against England on Sept. 22.

"I've worked pretty hard since I got the all clear from the doctor in April to start some physical activity," Manu told Television New Zealand.

Manu was helped in his recovery by former All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden, who overcame testicular cancer early in his career.

"He actually reached out and I reached out to him, got to talk to him about his experience," he said. "It's an inspirational story himself, getting past the cancer and playing his best rugby in front of him.

"Obviously, I'm a bit older (than Cruden was), but for me it's just all about health, being back to full health, and being able to be the father that I wanted to be, a husband and still play professional rugby, it's great."

Tonga will be without first choice hooker Paula Ngauamo who has a calf strain.

In his absence Siua Maile, who was working as a roofer before his selection for the Tonga team three weeks ago, will make his test debut.

Former Wallaby Cooper Vuna will start on the right wing after recently playing at inside center.

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Teams:

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Beauden Barrett, T.J. Perenara; Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Aaron Smith. Josh Ioane, Jordie Barrett.

Tonga: David Halaifonua, Cooper Vuna, Malietoa Hingano, Siale Piutau (captain), Viliami Lolohea, Kurt Morath, Sonatane Takulua; Maama Vaipulu, Fotu Lokotui, Sione Kalamafoni, Leva Fifita, Sam Lousi, Siua Halanukonuka, Siua Maile, Siegfried Fisiihoi. Reserves: Sione Anga'aelangi, Vunipola Fifita, Ma'afu Fia, Dan Faleafa, Zane Kapeli, Leon Fukofuka, James Faiva, Atieli Pakalani.

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