Wing Clarke back for All Blacks but Foster sticks to his guns

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Autumn International - France v New Zealand - Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France - November 20, 2021 New Zealand head coach Ian Foster during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

NELSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) – New Zealand wing Caleb Clarke will play his first test in two years but coach Ian Foster has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes for their Rugby Championship opener in South Africa, though he has recalled hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho.

Foster is under pressure after the All Blacks lost four of their last five tests, including a historic 2-1 home series defeat by Ireland last month that has left them facing something of a crisis a year out from the Rugby World Cup in France.

They now face back-to-back away Rugby Championship clashes against the world champion Springboks, starting in Nelspruit on Saturday, and although a few players have paid the price for the team’s below-par form, the core of the side that lost to the Irish remains in place.

Clarke, 23, earns his first cap since 2020 as he takes the place of Sevu Reece on the left wing, with Will Jordan on the opposite side and Jordie Barrett at fullback.

David Havili and Rieko Ioane remain the centre-pairing, while scrumhalf Aaron Smith and flyhalf Beauden Barrett maintain their partnership.

Under pressure captain Sam Cane stays at flank along with Akira Ioane, while Ardie Savea packs down at number eight.

Scott Barrett partners Sam Whitelock at lock in place of the injured Brodie Retallick, with Taukei’aho back at hooker after he was a surprise omission from the third test against Ireland.

Prop Angus Ta’avao returns from suspension, with George Bower on the opposite side of the scrum.

“We have settled in well in Mbombela and are preparing for what is always an intense game against our old foe,” Foster said in a media release from New Zealand Rugby.

“Many of our squad are here in South Africa for the first time. This gives us another opportunity to add new experiences and grow our game.”

New Zealand have not played a test in South Africa since 2018 and lost their last encounter 31-29 in the neutral Gold Coast in October last year.

Team: 15-Jordie Barrett, 14-Will Jordan, 13-Rieko Ioane, 12-David Havili, 11-Caleb Clarke, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Ardie Savea, 7-Sam Cane (captain), 6-Akira Ioane, 5-Scott Barrett, 4-Sam Whitelock, 3-Angus Ta’avao, 2-Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1-George Bower

Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17-Ethan de Groot, 18-Tyrel Lomax, 19-Tupou Vaa’i, 20-Shannon Frizell, 21-Finlay Christie, 22-Richie Mo’unga, 23-Quinn Tupaea

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