Johannesburg - Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and lock James Broadhurst will make their test debuts for New Zealand in the Rugby Championship test against South Africa on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Sopoaga steered the Dunedin-based Highlanders to the Super Rugby title this season, while Broadhurst was a key member of the Hurricanes’ squad which finished as runnerup.
Sopoaga takes over at flyhalf from Dan Carter, who will be rested after playing in tests against Samoa and Argentina over the past two weeks. Broadhurst replaces Luke Romano, who started both of those matches.
In five other changes, Dane Coles returns at hooker in place of Keven Mealamu, Liam Messam starts at blindside flanker for Jerome Kaino, Aaron Smith returns at scrumhalf, Conrad Smith at center and Ben Smith on the right wing.
Sopoaga on Thursday said he’s already nervous at the prospect of running out against the Springboks in front of 60,000 fans at Ellis Park.
“It doesn’t get much bigger, does it?” he was quoted as saying. “(I played in) the Super Rugby final two weeks ago in front of my family and friends, but to be able to carry out your dream at a park that holds so much history — for the All Blacks against South Africa — it couldn’t be a better script.
“I’d be lying if I stood here and said I wasn’t nervous. I definitely am but I think it’s a good thing.”
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said he was eager to see how Sopoaga and Broadhurst coped with the immense pressure of playing a Rugby Championship test in South Africa.
“We’ve got to learn how they cope with pressure and you don’t get too many occasions bigger than this one, so we’ll get some answers,” Hansen said.
He said Sopoaga had “impressed us how quick he’s come in and picked things up.”
“He’s asked some good questions,” Hansen said. “He only needs to be told something once and he picks it up.”
The coach described Broadhurst as “a big lump of a guy . . . but he’s very athletic.”
“The question mark around him when he was younger was is he physical enough? And in the last 12 to 18 months he’s showed that he is,” Hansen said.
Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will re-establish New Zealand’s most experienced midfield combination, and Ben Smith’s selection on the wing allows Israel Dagg to stay at fullback for his third consecutive test.
The All Blacks opened their Rugby Championship campaign with a 39-18 win over Argentina last weekend.
“This is a massive test for us — one the whole group is looking forward to,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t get much bigger or better than playing South Africa at Ellis Park. Both teams have a massive amount of respect for each other.”