All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has one eye on the future after selecting a new-look midfield partnership for the Test against Scotland at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh on Sunday.
Ben Smith, widely regarded as a winger or fullback, will play at centre with Highlanders’ teammate Tamati Ellison inside him.
The combination, who have just 12 caps between them, fill in for veterans Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith who share 136 appearances.
“We want to form a bit of a combination and we think there’s probably a bit of a combination there from the Highlanders already,” Hansen said.
Hooker Dane Coles and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow will make their debuts if they see action after being named on an eight-strong bench.
Hansen has resisted the temptation to rest captain Richie McCaw and five-eighth Dan Carter, but has given Piri Weepu the chance to impress by handing him a start in the No.9 jersey.
McCaw will start his 114th Test match with a rejigged back three with Victor Vito at No.8 and Adam Thomson on the blindside.
Hansen feels Thomson and Vito need to prove themselves in the first game of the four-week tour, while Weepu has looked back to his best in training.
“We gave him some pretty strong and clear guidelines before we picked the team and he’s met those, hence we’re seeing a sharper, fitter looking Piri, so long may that continue.”
Both wings feature Hurricane players, with Cory Jane on the right and Julian Savea on the left, while Israel Dagg will be the last line of defence at fullback.
Wyatt Crockett gets rewarded for his patience, starting his eighth Test in three years at loosehead prop, partnering Owen Franks and Andrew Hore in the front row.
“I think he’s [Crockett] been marking off the days until the squads go from 22 to 23. This is going to be a big occasion for him, so I’m expecting to see a big game from him,” Hansen said.
The Test marks the first time the All Blacks have played under the new rules which allow the inclusion of a second specialist prop on the bench.
Crusaders’ duo Samuel Whitelock and Luke Romano are the locks in a side which features only five survivors from the starting lineup which drew 18-18 with Australia in Brisbane last month.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw (capt), Adam Thomson, Samuel Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ma’a Nonu.