29 Oct 2020

Hoskins Sotutu to start as All Blacks make minimal changes

4:53 pm on 29 October 2020

Hoskins Sotutu will make his starting All Blacks debut at No.8 for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Sydney.

All Blacks loose forward Hoskins Sotutu during the 1st Bledisloe Cup test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Australia - SkySport Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand.  10  October  2020

Photo: Photosport Ltd 2020

Coach Ian Foster has largely stuck with the team that put Australia to the sword in the second test at Eden Park, with Sotutu replacing for Ardie Savea, who stayed behind in New Zealand for the birth of his second child.

Sotutu is one of three changes to the starting forward pack for Saturday, with Karl Tu'inukuafe comes in at loosehead prop for Joe Moody, who is unavailable due to the concussion he suffered in the Auckland match.

Sam Whitelock returns at starting lock in place of Tupou Vaa'i for the third Bledisleo Cup test, which doubles as the Rugby Championship opener, while prop Tyrel Lomax comes onto the bench for Nepo Laulala, who is also on paternity leave.

Sotutu came off the bench in the first two tests against the Wallabies earlier this month and Foster said he deserved his first test start.

"I have been really pleased with his involvement," Foster said. "Clearly he's an eight we have been looking at closely through the whole year.

"We are excited with his work rate. He's really calm and he loves to show his skillset and I can't wait to see him show it on the big stage."

Foster added that Sotutu offered a "more direct approach" than Savea, who normally plays openside flanker.

The coach also made changes to the bench with Ngani Laumape returning from a broken arm and Rieko Ioane coming in after he was a late withdrawal from the last game.

"It's about getting the balance and consistency of selection," Foster added. "We also want to keep introducing opportunities for people.

"Nothing beats time together and for us this week with our lineup ... we have been able to keep a lot of consistency."

Loose forward Dalton Papalii and midfielder Laumape also make their first appearances of 2020, with both on the bench.

The dual playmakers have been retained, with Richie Mo'unga at first-five and Beauden Barrett at fullback.

Breakout wing Caleb Clarke, who starred at Eden Park, stays on the left wing, with Jordie Barrett retained on the right.

Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown are in the midfield with Aaron Smith at halfback, Dane Coles at hooker and Sam Cane and Shannon Frizell joining Sotutu in the loose forwards.

Foster said this week's approach to what would be a massive Test match was simple.

"It's the third Test of a four Test series and the Bledisloe Cup is on the line. It's a real chance for us to come into their home patch, a place which they take a lot of pride in playing and for a trophy which means a lot to them, and we need to show them how much it means to us. The chance to go and win a trophy that's precious to us is exciting."

On Hoskins Sotutu, Foster said: "He's had plenty of minutes already in the Bledisloe Cup series and he's ready to go. He's excited. It's a chance to start his first Test so it's pretty special for him."

Foster said the All Blacks were also hugely excited by the prospect of winning the Bledisloe Cup on Australian soil, the first time since 2009 that the team had had that challenge.

"None of our players, even our experienced ones, have had to win the trophy in Australia. In the past the deciding game has always been in New Zealand, so I think it's a great challenge for us."

Commenting on the Bledisloe Cup series to date, Foster added: "It's been a two-pronged learning approach for us. Firstly, we've been learning about how we can get better ourselves and we've been delighted with the way the new players especially have made progress there. Now we just need to cement the growth in our game.

Secondly, clearly, we've also been learning about the Australians."

The matchday 23 is as follows (Test caps in brackets):

1. Karl Tu'inukuafe (14)

2. Dane Coles (71)

3. Ofa Tuungafasi (37)

4. Patrick Tuipulotu (32)

5. Samuel Whitelock (118)

6. Shannon Frizell (11)

7. Sam Cane (70) - captain

8. Hoskins Sotutu (2)

9. Aaron Smith (94)

10. Richie Mo'unga (19)

11. Caleb Clarke (2)

12. Jack Goodhue (15)

13. Anton Lienert-Brown (45)

14. Jordie Barrett (19)

15. Beauden Barrett (85)

16. Codie Taylor (52)

17. Alex Hodgman (1)

18. Tyrel Lomax (2)

19. Scott Barrett (37)

20. Dalton Papalii (3)

21. TJ Perenara (66)

22. Ngani Laumape (13)

23. Rieko Ioane (31)