Kieran Read to captain New Zealand in first Test against Lions

Kieran Read has returned as New Zealand captain for first Test against Lions.
Kieran Read has returned as New Zealand captain for first Test against Lions.

New Zealand have received the much needed boost ahead of the first Test against British and Irish Lions with the return of skipper Kieran Read after recovering from a thumb injury.

The 31-year-old sustained the blow while playing for his Super Rugby side Crusaders seven weeks ago and missed the previous clash against Samoa that All Blacks won 78-0. Also, returning to the squad is Ryan Crotty, who missed the game against Samoa with a rib injury.

Rieko Ioane is set to win his third Test cap and has been preferred choice over Julian Savea. Beauden Barrett will take the role of fly-half while Aaron Cruden is among the replacements. Lima Sopoaga has been named as the cover for Cruden, in case the 28-year-old fails to recover in time from his injury.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen described the return of Read and Crotty as a big boost to the side.

"They've both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they're really excited at what's ahead of us," said Hansen.

"This was a really tough team to pick. There were a number of players in great form vying for positions".

New Zealand enjoy a 37 match winning streak at Eden Park in Auckland and their previous defeat at the venue came way back in 1994. However, Hansen is wary of the threat the Lions posses.

"We know this is a very good British and Irish Lions team, probably one of the best to have toured here," Hansen said.

"The players are well aware of the history of the All Blacks and the Lions and are determined to respect that history with their performances.

"We know the importance of this match and we will bring real energy and intensity. It'll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test.

"There will be a unique and electric atmosphere at Eden Park on Saturday night."

New Zealand squad to face British and Irish Lions:

Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (capt), Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Ben Smith.

Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.