The All Blacks have announced their starting line-up for the first round of the Rugby Championship. This will be a hugely important tournament for all sides involved as they’ll be looking to generate decent momentum ahead of this year’s World Cup.
The match-up against Argentina this Saturday will be a big test for the All Blacks – a side who have not played together since their 25-25 draw against England at the end of last year. In big changes to the side that gave up a substantial lead at Twickenham in November, neither Beauden Barrett nor Richie Mo’unga will be donning the ten jersey this time around. Instead, it’s the turn of the immensely talented playmaker, Damian Mckenzie.
The Chiefs player has been on red-hot form ever since returning from his time in Japan and is expected to be a fascinating inclusion in the squad. Able to create space from apparently nothing, Mckenzie showed his class ‘above the rest’ whilst playing for the Barbarians against Bath in November. Despite both sides boasting some world-class players, Mckenzie’s performance at fly-half stole the show. Following some out-of-this-world playmaking skills, the 28-year-old from Invercargill slotted the match-winning drop goal – picking up the Player of the Match award in the process.
Outside of Mckenzie, the backline looks in similar shape, with Caleb Clarke, Jordie Barrett, and Rieko Ioane keeping their places, with Beauden Barrett filling in at the familiar fullback position. There is a first start for exciting Chiefs winger Emoni Narawa after tearing it up for the Chiefs in recent times.
Marshalling the forwards sees the ever reliable Aaron Smith take the nine jersey as he looks to use his years worth of experience to create an unbreakable cohesion between forwards and backs. There is also the return of Sam Cane to captain the side, backed up by the formidable Ardie Savea – who was recently filmed turning out for local club side Oriental Rongotai Rugby Club.
Joining Sam Cane on the flank is the 6 ft 5 in Tongan born Highlander, Shannon Frizell. In front of the giant flanker is two even larger second rows in Scott Barrett and Josh Lord. Rounding off the front row, experienced hooker Dane Coles is joined by Ethan De Groot and Tyrel Lomax.
The bench includes a series of match winners to complete a team that could easily strike fear into any team they face.
Team to take on Argentina in Mendoza pic.twitter.com/bihFPDrDIm
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 6, 2023
Not everybody is convinced however:
@HKuriah Mo’ unga on the bench and Barrett at 15. Surprised to see DMac at 10….
— Roy Charles (@RoyCharles125) July 6, 2023
An out of form Caleb Clarke and a washed up Beaudy. 😩
Shaun Stevenson must hear the drums of league calling him or worse, Ireland.
— Lakerman NZ (@NzLakerman) July 6, 2023