Hansen backs Gear for crunch Test

Wing Hosea Gear has been preferred to Julian Savea for Saturday’s Test against the Springboks in Soweto.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made just two changes to the starting line-up for the next fixture at Soccer City, for reasons of rotation and injury.

Hansen explained on Thursday that part of the reason that Savea has been dropped from the squad completely is that the All Blacks want to protect him at this early stage of his career.

‘We are very happy with how Julian is going and it’s not a reflection on him, just the need for a young player to step out of the pressure,’ Hansen said.

What this statement suggests is that Hansen feels that Gear will deal with the incredible amount of pressure – playing the Boks at home, in front of nearly 100 000 fans, at altitude – in this particular match.

‘We’ve rotated. It’s important for Hosea to step in and step up. He played particularly well against Ireland in Hamilton. It was probably one of his better Tests.

‘I’m expecting him to have a big game. He’s itching to get out there.’

Savea scored a hat-trick on debut in June, and added a further two to his tally when he played against Argentina last week. The All Blacks will be expecting a similarly penetrative performance from Gear.

‘Having watched what Julian has done the last Test I’m sure he’s excited to score a few tries himself,’ said Hansen. ‘It will be a big challenge for him.’

The other change to the starting side sees Brodie Retallick stepping in at front lock for Luke Romano. This is unsurprising, as Romano has cut a figure akin to Frankenstein’s monster this week, a series of stitches serving to hold his battered face together.

Hansen has confirmed that this has prevented Romano from training, and so the Crusaders lock will only be used from the bench.

Hansen has also made several changes to his reserves. These changes could be crucial, as matches against South Africa are often not decided until the final whistle.

Indeed, it was Israel Dagg (wearing No 22 on that occasion) who scored a match-winning try in the 2010 Test played at Soccer City.

Prop Ben Franks replaces Charlie Faumuina, the more experienced Adam Thomson edges Sam Cane for the back-up flanker berth, and Tamati Ellison is preferred to Ben Smith as the backline utility player.

All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Tamati Ellison.

By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg