Lock Brodie Retallick has returned for the All Blacks in arguably their strongest side for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Ireland at Tokyo Stadium.
The three-time world champions gave squad players and those returning from injury some game time and trialed combinations against Canada and Namibia but were unable to field their top side against Italy after the match was canceled due to Typhoon Hagibis.
Retallick and hooker Codie Taylor were the only changes to the pack that opened New Zealand’s campaign against South Africa with a 23-13 victory in Yokohama.
Retallick returned against Namibia on Oct. 6 after two months out with a dislocated shoulder. He played 30 minutes in Tokyo before being substituted to manage his playing time but was unable to get more minutes into his legs ahead of the quarterfinals when the All Blacks’ final pool match was scrapped.
“He can play 80 (minutes) if that’s what we want but it’ll be unlikely,” Hansen said at a news conference on Thursday when asked how much Retallick might play.
“Brodie is a bit of a freak. He has what we call a big motor. He can play whether he has had a short or long break.”
Ryan Crotty, who started the South Africa game, has been replaced by Jack Goodhue in the midfield with Anton Lienert-Brown playing inside center.
Captain Kieran Read, who was rested for the Namibia game, returns at No. 8 to lead the side in his 125th test, while the dual playmaker axis of Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf has been reinstated.
Barrett’s younger brother, Jordie, made his first test start at flyhalf against Namibia and scored 21 points but has dropped to the bench.
Hansen said Jordie Barrett’s performances in the tournament had forced his way into his selection thoughts, though veteran Ben Smith was still playing well.
“I would say that everyone in the group is in form but you can only pick 23,” Hansen said.
“And like any selection there are some guys who you will pick and then you look at your combinations, opposition and how you want to play and end up with the 23.”
Five of the forwards — Read, Retallick, Ardie Savea, hooker Taylor and Sam Whitelock — have been retained from the starting lineup from New Zealand’s 16-9 loss against Joe Schmidt’s Ireland last November.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, who played flyhalf, and center Goodhue are the only survivors from the starting backline from that game, which was the first time Ireland had beaten New Zealand in Dublin and only its second-ever win over them.