Beauden Barrett on the All Blacks bench for first England Test

Beauden Barrett in action for the All Blacks. File photo

New All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson said Thursday that star playmaker Beauden Barrett took  being named on the bench for the first Test against England “like a pro”.

Damian McKenzie was preferred at fly-half for Saturday’s first of the two-Test series in Dunedin after Barrett spent most of 2024 playing in Japan.

Robertson opted for Stephen Perofeta to win his fourth cap at full-back after he was part of Auckland Blues Super Rugby winning side last month.

The side will be captained for the first time by Beauden’s younger brother, lock forward Scott Barrett, who hasn’t played a game for two months because of a back injury.

Robertson named eight starting players who took the field for New Zealand’s most recent Test, the 12-11 Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa in Paris last October. Beauden Barrett started at full-back on that occasion.

“He took it like a true pro, whatever’s required for this week,” Robertson said of Barrett’s reaction to being dropped to the replacements.

“Obviously the experience of 123 Test matches counts for a lot, but also there’s a guy (Perofeta) who was in form just two weeks ago in a Test match-level game in a final.

“And Beauden can play his part, covering 10 and 15.”

McKenzie will partner scrum-half TJ Perenara, who returns to the All Blacks for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon in late 2022 in the drawn Test against England at Twickenham, the last time the teams met.

Perenara and Perofeta are among four starting players who did not play a Test last year, along with winger Sevu Reece and lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

Waikato Chiefs flanker Samipeni Finau won a contentious battle for the blindside flanker berth. The hard-hitting loose forward joins Ardie Savea and Dalton Papali’i in the back row.

Robertson left out all of the squad’s five uncapped players from the matchday 23.

The All Blacks are without Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith, 100-plus Test veterans who retired after the World Cup.

New Zealand supporters are hoping Robertson can rejuvenate an All Blacks side whose form wavered for four years under his predecessor Ian Foster.

Robertson said he had received a text message from former All Blacks coach Graham Henry.

“He said ‘all the best’. That was a nice little touch from him and he had a hell of a career didn’t he?” Robertson said of Henry, whose tenure ended with a Rugby World Cup triumph on home soil in 2011.

New Zealand (15-1):

Stephen Perofeta; Sevu Reece, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Tele’a; Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara; Ardie Savea, Dalton Papali’i, Samipeni Finau; Patrick Tuipulotu, Scott Barrett (captain); Tyrel Lomax, Codie Taylor, Ethan De Groot.

Replacements: Beauden Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Finlay Christie, Luke Jacobson, Tupou Vaa’i, Fletcher Newell, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Asafo Aumua.

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