WELLINGTON (AFP) – The All Blacks have made five changes for Saturday's crunch Test against the Springboks including a start for their least experienced hooker Dane Coles against a notoriously powerful South African pack.
It is one of four changes in a redesigned forward combination for the showdown between the only two unbeaten sides in the competition.
Liam Messam takes over as the blindside flanker to beef up the loose trio where Sam Cane will fill in for the injured Richie McCaw while regular first-choice prop Owen Franks returns from injury.
The only change in the backs sees the return of a fit again Ma'a Nonu to front up against Springbok captain Jean de Villiers.
Coles, who has come off the bench in his last three Tests, gets the nod at hooker over World Cup veteran Andrew Hore with Keven Mealamu named as the replacement.
Messam suffered a calf injury before the first Rugby Championship Test against Australia, opening the door for novice Steven Luatua whose blockbusting performance then shut Messam out of the next two Tests.
But with McCaw sidelined, and the eight-Test rake Coles slotting into the front row, coach Steve Hansen has returned to Messam for the experience he can provide against a physical Springboks pack.
"We have a massive amount of respect for South Africa and have prepared accordingly," Hansen said of his rearranged side.
"The physical challenge will be huge, as it always is, and the team that executes their game with the greatest effectiveness, clarity and intensity will be the one that comes out on top.
"There were some tough decisions to be made, none more so than between Liam and Steven. But in the end we have gone for Liam's extra experience and physicality."
In the absence of the talismanic McCaw, who could be out for up to five weeks after damaging his left knee against Argentina last week, Kieran Read will take over as captain.
The All Blacks will be attempting to maintain their 30-test unbeaten run at Eden Park, dating back to 1994. The Springboks last won at the ground in 1937.
"The test match is shaping up to be a massive occasion with the two top-ranked sides in the world coming together," Hansen said.
"Both teams are in good form and will bring their respective strengths to the contest.
The Springboks named their side on Wednesday and retained the same starting line up and bench that thrashed Australia 38-12 last week.
New Zealand (15-1)
Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Matt Todd, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.