New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has recalled centre Ryan Crotty for the upcoming Test against Tonga in Hamilton to be played on Saturday.
Crotty last played for the All Blacks in November last year and was sidelined with a thumb injury and now returns for the All Blacks after a successful return for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Beauden Barrett returns to the fly-half role with Richie Mo'unga sidelined and will form halfback partnership with TJ Perenara. Meanwhile, Crotty will form midfield partnership with Anton Lienert-Brown while George Bridge and Sevu Reece are at wings and Ben Smith at fullback.
The back-row sees inclusion of Matt Todd with Kieran Read and Ardie Savea retaining their places while Hansen has retained the second row partnership of Samuel Whitelock Patrick Tuipulotu. The final change sees Dane Coles replaced by Codie Taylor.
“It’s great to get the squad together and start preparing for what will be a great match against Tonga. We know the Rugby World Cup is just around the corner, but we are focusing on ‘right here, right now’,” said Hansen.
“The players have brought real energy into our preparations here in Hamilton and the key will be to harness that excitement and put in a skillful and clinical performance on Saturday.
“Tonga will be targeting this game in a bid to build momentum into their Rugby World Cup campaign, and so are we, as it’s going to be important for both teams to head into the Tournament with confidence.”
New Zealand starting XV: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Jordie Barrett