21 Jun 2014

Hansen heaps praise on raw talent Fekitoa

11:57 am on 21 June 2014

The All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes rookie midfielder Malakai Fekitoa has the ability and the desire to become a regular starter in the black jersey.

The 22-year-old's breakout season will on Saturday reach its peak with the Highlanders centre to make his first start for the All Blacks in the third and final Test against England in Hamilton.

With 77-Test veteran Conrad Smith unavailable due to injury Fekitoa has some rather large boots to fill but Hansen's confident the Tongan born tackle buster will rise to the occasion.

Hansen says first-five Aaron Cruden was chosen to start ahead of Beauden Barrett as the selectors didn't want to introduce two new combinations with Fekitoa and second-five Ma'a Nonu playing together for first time.

No.8 Kieran Read returns to the side for the first time this year after overcoming concussion issues, pushing Jerome Kaino to blindside and Liam Messam to the bench.