SYDNEY :Damian McKenzie will make his first test start at flyhalf for three years against Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday after All Blacks coach Ian Foster completely overhauled his team for their fourth Rugby Championship clash.
The fleet-footed playmaker has worn the All Blacks' number 10 jersey only once, in the 49-14 thrashing of France in Dunedin in 2018, though he came off the bench to replace flyhalf Beauden Barrett during the 39-0 shutout of the Pumas on Sunday.
With regular 10 Richie Mo'unga stuck in hotel quarantine for two weeks, Foster said McKenzie's promotion would help ease the load on Barrett with back-to-back tests against South Africa to come in consecutive weeks.
"He played 35 minutes last week against Argentina and he’s got a clear understanding of his role," Foster said of McKenzie, who has played most of his 34 tests at fullback.
"It's a common sense selection in terms of managing Beaudie for the next couple of weeks. But it's also a vote of confidence that we think he's really progressing in that position."
While McKenzie will lead a backline featuring only four of the players who started last week, the pack has been completely changed with Ardie Savea returning to captain the side from openside flanker after being rested last week.
He is joined in the back row by number eight Hoskins Sotutu and Ethan Blackadder as the All Blacks look to maintain their 100per cent record in the competition.
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu will partner Tupou Vaa'i in the second row after recovering from a groin strain, while Brodie Retallick, who captained the side on Sunday, has been rested.
Centre David Havili, loose forwards Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii, and props Nepo Laulala and Karl Tu’inukuafe will also have the week off.
Loosehead prop Joe Moody, who eased back from injury from the bench on Sunday, will start in the front row with hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho and tighthead Tyrel Lomax.
"Five tests in a row demanded that," Foster said of the changes.
"But the good thing is that we have a group that has been focusing on the same opposition for the last two weeks, so our preparation time hasn’t been compromised."
Regular scrumhalf Aaron Smith was ruled out of the Rugby Championship this week while awaiting the birth of his child, and Foster said he was not planning for the test centurion to play any part in the subsequent northern hemisphere tour.
The coach added that Shannon Frizell, who had assault charges dismissed this week, would come into selection considerations as the All Blacks head to the United States and Europe.
Team: 15-Jordie Barrett, 14-Will Jordan, 13-Rieko Ioane, 12-Quinn Tupaea, 11-George Bridge, 10-Damian McKenzie, 9-TJ Perenara, 8-Hoskins Sotutu, 7-Ardie Savea (captain), 6-Ethan Blackadder, 5-Tupou Vaa'i, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 2-Samisoni Taukei'aho, 1-Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-George Bower, 18-Ofa Tuungafasi, 19-Scott Barrett, 20-Luke Jacobson, 21-Finlay Christie, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Braydon Ennor
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney and Ian Ransom in Melbourne, editing by Peter Rutherford)