Star flank Richie McCaw returns to the embattled New Zealand team, as they gear up for their must-win Tri-Nations/Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
However, injury concerns over hooker and scrumhalf remain, as injuries to Andrew Hore (hip pointer), Andy Ellis (ribs) and Jimmy Cowan (knee) continue to be monitored.
The return of McCaw, who also reclaims the captaincy from Rodney So’oialo, could not have come at a more opportune time for the All Blacks.
Not since 1998, when they lost five on the trot under John Hart, have the Kiwis lost three Tests in a row. Their recent defeats against South Africa (in Perth on July 12) and against Australia (last week) were the first back-to-back defeats since 2004.
McCaw will be leading the side exactly six weeks since he suffered a high ankle sprain against England in Christchurch.
His return to openside flank comes at the expense of Daniel Braid, who has been bracketed on the replacement bench with Adam Thomson – as Anthony Boric drops out of the matchday 22.
So’oialo, who has looked out of sorts on the flank in the last few weeks, returns to his preferred position at No.8 – with Jerome Kaino moving to the blindside flank, after also producing a couple of disappointing performances.
Replacement loose forward Sione Lauaki, who had an error-filled run in the Test against Australia, has been dropped from the matchday 22 – as has wing Anthony Tuitavake.
Outside centre Conrad Smith returns to the starting line up in place of Richard Kahui, who drops down to the bench, while Mils Muliaina moves to the wing to accommodate the return of Leon MacDonald at fullback.
The decisions about the fitness of the injured trio – Hore, Ellis and Cowan – are expected to be taken on Thursday.
Piri Weepu, back in the All Black squad after a long absence, is bracketed with Cowan and Ellis for the No.9 jersey.
Hore is bracketed with long-time hooking rival Keven Mealamu.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry admitted changes to the team were necessary after the poor performances of the last few weeks.
“We’ve made some tactical changes in our selections,” Henry said.
“But we also need to change how we play. Clearly there are areas we need to improve on from [the 19-34 loss to Australia in] Sydney. We have to have the right game plan and execution.”
New Zealand: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Mils Muliaina, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan/ Piri Weepu/ Andy Ellis, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Andrew Hore/Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore/ Keven Mealamu, 17 John Afoa, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Adam Thomson/Daniel Braid, 20 Jimmy Cowan/ Piri Weepu/ Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Richard Kahui.