Kieran Read returns as All Blacks name team for first Test
New Zealand captain Kieran Read has been named as captain in the All Blacks side to take on the British & Irish Lions in this Saturday's first Test in Auckland.
Read will start his first game of rugby since breaking his thumb while on Super Rugby duty for the Crusaders just over seven weeks ago.
The Crusaders number eight was in line to come off the bench in New Zealand's 78-0 win over Samoa last Friday night, however, he now returns to the All Blacks starting XV where he will line up alongside Chiefs openside flanker Sam Cane and Blues blindside flanker Jerome Kaino.
Blues winger Rieko Ioane has been named on the left wing replacing Julian Savea in what will be Ioane's first start in just his third Test.
The 20-year-old was outstanding in the Blues 22-16 win over the Lions in Auckland two weeks ago and he replaces Savea who is just two tires short of tying Doug Howlett's record for being the All Blacks all-time leading try scorer.
Elsewhere Ryan Crotty returns from injury and has been named at centre, with Anton Lienert-Brown moving to the bench.
Meanwhile, fly-half Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga have been bracketed as fly-half cover, with a decision to be made tomorrow.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: "This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination to take on the Lions in the first Test.
Hansen added it was great to have Read and Crotty back.
"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.
"I'd also like to congratulate Rieko on getting his first start for the All Blacks. His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing."
Hansen said there was a massive amount of excitement within the team.
"There's a real understanding that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 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 this is a very good British and Irish Lions team; probably one of the best to have toured here. It'll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of. 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. It's something we're really looking forward to and we can't wait."
The match day 23 for the first Test of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series is (with Test caps in brackets):
1. Joe Moody (25)
2. Codie Taylor (16)
3. Owen Franks (91)
4. Brodie Retallick (61)
5. Samuel Whitelock (85)
6. Jerome Kaino (78)
7. Sam Cane (41)
8. Kieran Read (97) - Captain
9. Aaron Smith (59)
10. Beauden Barrett (50)
11. Rieko Ioane (2)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (34)
13. Ryan Crotty (26)
14. Israel Dagg (62)
15. Ben Smith (61)
16. Nathan Harris (5)
17. Wyatt Crockett (59)
18. Charlie Faumuina (47)
19. Scott Barrett (5)
20. Ardie Savea (13)
21. TJ Perenara (30)
22. Aaron Cruden (47) / Lima Sopoaga (7)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (10)