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Barrett cracks All Blacks starting side

NZN 17/08/2016

Beauden Barrett has usurped Aaron Cruden to become starting five eighth for the All Blacks in Saturday's Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup opener against the Wallabies in Sydney.

Barrett's brilliance in guiding the Hurricanes to their maiden Super Rugby title forced coach Steve Hansen's hand, earning the versatile star promotion from his usual role as super-sub for the world champions.

Cruden has been relegated to the bench, along with giant winger Julian Savea who has struggled badly for form this season and was also benched by the Hurricanes during the Super Rugby finals.

"Barrett's just been so good that you want him on the park for 80 minutes, not just 40 or 50," Hansen said.

"He's really forced our hand and said, you've just got to pick me."

Israel Dagg, the 2011 World Cup fullback, has been rewarded for his return to form, taking over the No.15 jersey from Ben Smith who moves to Savea's wing, with Waisake Naholo on the other flank.

Openside flanker Sam Cane returns to action after overcoming concussion issues and holds out irrepressible Ardie Savea, who will again come off the bench.

"Ardie's been in outstanding form and so has Sam, and we just see them as a really good combination at this stage," Hansen said.

Regular hooker Dane Coles is a big loss for the All Blacks as he sits out the match after failing to recover from a rib injury suffered when leading the Hurricanes in their finals series.

Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris takes Coles' place in the front row alongside veterans Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks.

In the midfield, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa will line up as expected after injury ruled out George Moala, who was vying with Fekitoa for the outside centre role.

Chiefs prop Kane Hames has also been drafted onto the bench in place of the crocked Joe Moody, giving him the chance to make his international debut.

Like Barrett, halfback TJ Perenara has been rewarded for excellent form for the Hurricanes, replacing Tawera Kerr-Barlow as reserve halfback behind starter Aaron Smith.

Hansen brought his troops to Sydney several days earlier than usual ahead of Saturday's match at ANZ Stadium and said the decision had paid dividends.

"This week has been about getting our preparation and attitude dead right," Hansen said.

"There's an expectation this group will bring real intensity, physicality and a high level of skill execution come Saturday."

Hansen said his side had to earn the right to retain the Bledisloe for the 13th consecutive year.

"Both teams will be desperate to get their hands on it which will create added pressure," Hansen said.

"It's about embracing that pressure and taking it on."

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Codie Taylor, Kane Hames, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea.

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