Rugby Championship: All Blacks prefer Ben Smith to Israel Dagg
Last Updated: 14/08/14 12:09pm
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has picked Ben Smith ahead of Israel Dagg at full-back for Saturday's Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Sydney.
There is no room in the matchday 23 for Dagg, who is dropped for the first time since becoming New Zealand's first-choice full-back in 2011.
In the only other changes to the third Test side that played against England in Hamilton, Conrad Smith returns to outside centre after recovering from a broken thumb while Wyatt Crockett takes over from the injured Tony Woodcock in the front row.
Hansen admitted that it was hard to ignore Smith's form at full-back.
"While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg's performances at 15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level," he said.
"The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances - when he gets the opportunity - to an even higher level.
"It was a tough team to select in many ways because we have a lot of players in good form. But in the end we selected the group that we felt could get the job done.
"We are really happy with our build-up and looking to put the finishing touches to our game over the next few days.
"The Bledisloe Cup is an extremely important trophy for us all and there is a strong desire within the group to begin the Rugby Championship on a positive note with a quality performance."
Amongst the replacements, Steven Luatua and Sam Cane have been selected as second row and loose forward cover, while Liam Messam has been rested after a gruelling Super Rugby campaign and prop Charlie Faumuina was a late withdrawal due to an illness.
"He (Messam) had another heavy workload during the Super Rugby campaign and we felt that giving him another week off would be the best thing," said Hansen.
"He will come back in contention for selection next week."
Faumuina's absence means that Joe Moody will get a chance to make his Test debut if he comes off the bench.
New Zealand: B Smith, Jane, C Smith, Nonu, Savea, Cruden, A Smith; Read, McCaw (c), Kaino, Whitelock, Retallick, Franks, Coles, Crockett.
Replacements: Mealamu, Franks, Moody, Luatua, Cane, Perenara, Barrett, Fekitoa.