ALL BLACKS HALF BACK Aaron Smith has been dropped for Saturday’s Test against South Africa in Dunedin – due to a discipline issue.
Smith had started in all six previous Tests this year but he has been relegated to the bench for the Rugby Championship showdown for breaking team protocol in Wellington last weekend.
Piri Weepu, who played a significant impact role against the Pumas, has been given his first start of the season and will earn his 63rd cap.
“We have a strong focus on recovery and Aaron Smith broke protocol last week,” All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen said. ”It made him ineligible for selection for the starting lineup. Protocols are non-negotiable and the consequences are you don’t start if you break them.”
Asked if Smith would have started if he had not broken protocol, Hansen replied:”It’s irrelevant. He broke them so we don’t need to go there. The other fellow (Weepu) played pretty well last weekend as well. We’re very fortunate we’ve got two good halfbacks.”
There are four changes to the starting lineup from the All Blacks side that beat Argentina 21-5 last weekend. Weepu replaces Aaron Smith, Andrew Hore comes in for Keven Mealamu at hooker, Sam Whitelock for Brodie Retallick at lock and Liam Messam for Victor Vito on the blindside flank.
Hansen said Messam had demanded selection with his form this season.
“He brings a consistency of high quality performance and just a little more physicality than Victor. Liam’s comfortable in his own skin now and he’s playing particularly well. He’s combining well with Kieran (Read) and Richie (McCaw) and that’s important as well.”
Hansen said Whitelock had reacted well to being dropped for the Pumas Test last weekend and was back in favour.
“I said last weekend Brodie Retallick was playing better than Sam but Sam has responded particularly well in discussions we’ve had.”
Hansen reiterated his opinion that it was important to play to the All Blacks strengths.
“I think you like to think you don’t go to far away from your strengths,” he said. ”They clearly underlined what their strengths are. It is a kick-chase game and a lot of driving and physicality up front. So I can’t imagine them wanting to change that. You’ve got to expect the unexpected as well.
“The planning of this game is what we are going to be allowed to do against the Boks and what we need to do to stop them doing what they want. They are a big side, they are physical. We’ve got to match that physicality and passion and desperation they’ve got.
“They’ve not had a great start to the championship, so if we come in half-hearted then we could find ourselves on the back foot, so it’s about us being on the front foot and enhancing our performance.”
Hansen said he was looking for a big performance in Dunedin.
“Clearly at the beginning of this competition we set ourselves two big challenges. One was the opponent, one was ourselves.
“The opponent side of things has ticked along okay, but we are always looking to get better and here is an opportunity to play at home in front of our home crowd.”