Eddie Jones returns to the Ford-Farrell axis and moves Henry Slade to the bench despite his impressive display against Australia. The only other change sees Lewis Ludlam give up his bench spot to the indefatigable gnarly physicality of Mark Wilson. It should be quite a tussle when both Wilson and the All Black Sam Cane enter the fray from the dug-out to have a competition as to who can be the most deceptively destructive physical presence.
Steve Hansen has done what passes for rolling the dice for him. Scott Barrett, a lock-forward, starts today at blind-side for the first time in his 34 caps. He’s not a complete novice at this level having come off the bench to play flanker eight times, including for a full half in the dismantling of an already beaten Ireland last week, but he’s not far off.
What to make of this? Barrett offers another lineout option, which will certainly counter Itoje’s threat to get in front of opposition jumpers and steal ball if he has more to cover. He will also offer more bulk to counter England’s carriers, particularly the Vunipolas. Either of these makes some sense, but what has jaws wagging is that making a change to counter opposition tactics is not very Hansen and even less All Blacks – they usually prefer the ‘let them worry about us’ approach.
If England can work their blueprint early, they could have enough to hang on. But, I’ve a feeling we could see a plan out of the blocks from NZ similar to how they attacked the first Lions test in 2017: incredibly physical carries off precise short passes, either offloaded or from around the ruck, that inched them up the field, ground the opposition under them and led to a comfortable win (including a Fifteen Minute Soul-Splinterer early in the second half, by the way).
When you consider that, Scott Barrett’s selection appears the most logical of decisions.
England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read (capt).
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett