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Damian McKenzie Surprises as Five-Eighth in New Zealand Rugby Championship Opener

In an unexpected move, Damian McKenzie has been given the opportunity to start as five-eighth for the New Zealand team in their match against Argentina this Sunday (AEST) in the opening round of the Rugby Championship. McKenzie’s career with the All Blacks seemed uncertain after playing in Japan last year, but he has had an exceptional season, leading the Chiefs to the Super Rugby Pacific final.

The All Blacks selectors have decided to give McKenzie a chance to showcase his skills while naming Beauden Barrett, who has been out of form, as fullback. It appears that the team is keeping their best XV a secret for their upcoming match against the world champion Springboks in Auckland.

Emoni Narawa, a winger for the Chiefs, will make his Test debut in this match, and lock Josh Lord will play his third Test and his first since 2021. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, veteran locks, have been omitted from the 23, indicating that the team is planning for the South Africa match. Tupou Vaa’i will be on the bench to cover the lock position.

Aaron Smith, with 115 tests under his belt, will play as halfback, and Jordie Barrett will once again start at inside centre. Dane Coles, with his 85th Test, will be at hooker, while Samisoni Taukei’aho has been left out of the 23.

Coach Ian Foster explained the team’s decision, saying, “We have taken the need to build combinations in a vital year and balanced it with the need to manage the squad after Super Rugby. This is obviously a massive year, and we are really confident in the way that we’ve been building. We have had a short buildup but an effective one.”

This match in Mendoza will be the first time these two teams meet there, and all 42,500 seats at Estadio Malvinas Argentina were sold out two months prior. Argentina will be starting Lucio Sordoni, their tighthead prop, in his first Test since 2020 against New Zealand in Newcastle.

The Pumas have made five changes and one positional shift from their side that lost to Scotland 52-29 at Murrayfield in November. Flanker Marcos Kremer, who was sent off in the match against Scotland, has been suspended for the entire Rugby Championship. Pumas coach Michael Cheika has brought in Rodrigo Bruni and backs Matias Moroni and Mateo Carreras. Emiliano Boffelli, the only Pumas starter in all 12 of their Tests last year, has been moved from the wing to fullback.

Here are the lineups for both teams:

PUMAS (15-1):
Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy, Matias Moroni, Lucio Cinti, Mateo Carreras, Santiago Carreras, Gonzalo Bertranou, Rodrigo Bruni, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Lucio Sordoni, Julian Montoya (c), Thomas Gallo
Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Mayco Vivas, Eduardo Bello, Pedro Rubiolo, Santiago Grondona, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Nicolas Sanchez, Matias Orlando

ALL BLACKS (15-1):
Beauden Barrett, Emoni Narawa, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Damian McKenzie, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (c), Shannon Frizell, Josh Lord, Scott Barrett, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Tupou Vaa’i, Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor

 

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