15 Jun 2017

Smith to lead All Blacks in season opener

8:25 am on 15 June 2017

Ben Smith will become the 68th All Blacks Test skipper after being named to lead the world champions out for their season-opening Test against Samoa in Auckland on Friday.

The fullback, a veteran of 60 Tests, will captain an experienced line-up.

All Blacks Captain Kieran Read and vice captain Ben Smith.

Ben Smith (right) will lead the All Blacks in Kieran Read's absence. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Flanker Sam Cane was considered a good chance to be named skipper in the absence of the injured Kieran Read, having done so twice before.

However, coach Steve Hansen went for a man who has impressed as Highlanders co- captain for two seasons and was appointed to that role with the All Blacks last year.

Smith will be the first fullback to lead the All Blacks since Mils Muliaina did for three Tests in 2009.

Read is expected to be fit for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions on June 24.

His No.8 berth is taken this week by livewire Ardie Savea, whose previous 12 appearances were as a reserve or a flanker.

Regarded previously as an openside specialist, Savea has started five games at No.8 for the Hurricanes this year.

The Test will be a special one for the Barrett family, after three brothers were included in the 23, including the uncapped Jordie Barrett on the reserves bench.

Lock Scott Barrett is also on the bench while starting first five-eighth Beauden, the reigning world player of the year, will play his 50th Test.

Assuming both reserves come on, it will be the first time three All Blacks brothers have played in the same Test.

Another debut looms for Jordie Barrett's Hurricanes teammate and lock Vaea Fifita, who is on the bench as loose forward cover in the absence of Read and Liam Squire.

Hansen says he plans to use both uncapped players at some point.

Aaron Smith scores RWC2015

Aaron Smith Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Aaron Smith has won the contentious halfback spot ahead of TJ Perenara, reversing the pecking order of last November's tour when Smith's form dipped badly.

Second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams will play his first Test since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, having had a dab at sevens last year.

Reserve hooker Nathan Harris played his most recent Test a year ago, before embarking on another lengthy period of injury.

The starting tight five features four of the Crusaders pack who struggled for authority in the 12-3 loss to the Lions on Saturday.

Codie Taylor starts at hooker, with Dane Coles still recovering from concussion symptoms.

In the starting XV, there are three backs and five forwards who also ran out in their most recent Test, the 24-19 defeat of France in Paris last November.

All Blacks:

Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Vaea Fifita, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Jordie Barrett.