Rookie hooker Nathan Harris is set to make his All Blacks Test debut against Argentina in La Plata on Saturday after being named on the replacements’ bench.
Harris, who was expected to make his debut next week against the Springboks, was brought in early due to Dane Coles’ trip home to New Zealand to attend the birth of his first child.
Coles had been expected to still be with the team until after the Pumas’ clash and then return home, though his partner Sarah went into labour early and he returned to New Zealand. Veteran hooker Keven Mealamu will wear the number two jersey.
“We’ve known that we were going to have to bring Nathan in for the next leg so we’re just going one game earlier,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told reporters in Argentina.
“It’s not too big of an adjustment at all really.
“We’ve been training for it; you expected the unexpected. Nathan and Keven have been doing everything. We’ve planned for it and it’s happened.
“I’m looking forward to it actually. It’s taken a long time to get him to this point. If he gets through the next two games I’m sure he’s going to be a great All Black because they will be the biggest tests he’ll ever have.”
Coles’ hasty return home was the second disruption to Hansen’s preparations ahead of the Pumas’ clash with fly-half Aaron Cruden dropped before the team left for Argentina after he was late arriving for the flight to Argentina following a night out drinking in Auckland.
Beauden Barrett, whose only previous start at fly-half was against Argentina in Napier earlier this month, will replace Cruden.
Rookie centre Malakai Fekitoa will also start at inside centre after Ma’a Nonu was ruled out for the season with a broken arm he sustained against South Africa on September 13.
“Though it’s disappointing having Ma’a injured, it is a great opportunity for the young man and one I’m sure he will take,” added Hansen of Fekitoa’s third test start.
Hansen also brought back-row Jerome Kaino back into the starting line-up after the blindside flanker recovered from a hyper-extended elbow that he sustained last month against Australia.
Lock Sam Whitelock also replaces Jeremy Thrush in the second row after he recovered from a rib cartilage injury that he sustained when he fell awkwardly during a lineout against the Pumas at McLean Park.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will this weekend equal All Blacks great Colin Meads’ record of 133 games for the All Blacks.
Meads played 55 tests and 78 other matches for the All Blacks from 1957 to 1971.
McCaw has played 132 Tests and a sole non-Test appearance against the Barbarians in 2009 since making his debut in 2001.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Cory Jane.
Date: Saturday, September 27