All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has named his matchday squad for their end-of-year tour opener against Japan in Tokyo on Saturday, with Blues backline duo Stephen Perofeta and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck named in the starting line-up for the first time.
Apart from the duo’s first appearance in the run-on side, another five players are set to return from injury for New Zealand.
It will be a special occasion for Perofeta and Tuivasa-Sheck who have been named at inside centre and full-back respectively. Tuivasa-Sheck will start midfield alongside Braydon Ennor.
Meanwhile, scrum-half Finlay Christie has been named to start his second Test, while veteran number nine Aaron Smith provides cover off the replacements bench. If Smith makes an appearance in this encounter, he will equal Dan Carter as the sixth-most capped All Black with 112 outings.
The All Blacks squad also features the return of experienced centre Anton Lienert-Brown. The 27-year-old was ruled out of international rugby earlier this year due to a shoulder injury and is set to earn his first Test cap since November.
Foster has retained six players from the All Blacks side which sealed a win over Australia at Eden Park in September and helped them to be crowned as Rugby Championship winners for 2022.
Wary of Japan
“This northern tour is going to be huge,” said Foster. “We see four incredibly tough Tests ahead and this one against Japan will ask some serious questions of us.
“We want to show that we are ready to respond. We want to show that we have put in the work required to lift our game even further after the Rugby Championship.
“We have a lot of respect for Japanese rugby, the fans and the culture of this country as a whole. What an exciting way to kick off the next part of our journey as a group.”
It will be the All Blacks’ first appearance at the Japan National Stadium which recently hosted the Olympic Games.
A sell-out crowd of 65,000 spectators will be in attendance at Japan’s largest ever crowd for an international played outside the 2019 World Cup.
New Zealand: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papali’i, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 David Havili, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
Date: Saturday, October 29
Venue: Japan National Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 14:50 local (06:50 BST, 05:50 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)