Joe Moody’s lacerated eyelid has forced the only selection surprise to an otherwise strong, full-strength All Blacks team. Nothing else would be expected for a high-profile test against England at Twickenham.
In a freak training incident, Moody required three layers of stitches to his eyelid and will be sidelined for six weeks after copping a wayward finger during a routine lineout lift in London earlier this week.
The injury adds to a frustrating year in which Moody, the All Blacks’ first-choice loosehead prop now confined to wearing an eye patch, has missed the majority of the season, playing six tests, after a catalogue of injuries for the Crusaders and All Blacks.
“Joe Moody has found a way to get himself injured in unusual fashion this year,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “Anyone else it would probably have missed his eye.
“Plastic surgeon has recommended the six weeks and as our doctor described it your eyelid is your window washer so if you’ve got half of it missing you can’t wipe your eye so it will impact your eyesight long term, so we need to make sure he is okay.”
Moody’s misfortune opens the door for the big-scrummaging Karl Tu’inukuafe to make his fifth start of the year, with Ofa Tu’ungafasi providing cover from the bench.
Angus Ta’avao’s ability to play both sides of the scrum has resulted in his recall over loosehead specialist Tim Perry.
Tu’inukuafe, described as a diamond, has been the find of the season for the All Blacks. No doubt he will relish the prospect of locking horns with the English front-row.
Elsewhere the All Blacks have picked what they, for now, consider their strongest team. That includes the return of Jack Goodhue, the Crusaders centre partnering Sonny Bill Williams for only the second time in the midfield after last appearing for the All Blacks seven weeks ago.
Blood tests cleared Goodhue of any lingering glandular fever, an illness which kept him out of the Bledisloe Cup victory in Yokohama two weeks ago. His return pushes Crusaders team-mate Ryan Crotty to the bench.
“Jack has trained the house down so you’ve got to trust the medical people,” Hansen said. “They say he’s ready to go so he’s ready to go.
“It’s a bit tough on Alby [Anton Lienert-Brown] because he’s been doing the job for us off the bench but we’ve got to find out if someone else can do that job. People say this is a big test but that’s the best time to find out.
“We’re blessed with some very good midfielders at the moment. It doesn’t matter which one you play we’ve just got work out what combinations really gel well together and what we can do with the bench.”
The back three – Rieko Ioane, Ben Smith and Damian McKenzie – which the All Blacks felt had success against the Wallabies last time out has also been retained.
This gives McKenzie another chance to fulfill the second playmaking option the All Blacks are now favouring from fullback in order to take decision-making pressure off Beauden Barrett.
“We think Damian is very good in the air. Bender is world-class. Rieko is very good receiving them; he’s still got a bit of work to do chasing them. All the other qualities he’s got I think we can cope with that one not quite being world-class.”
In their on-going, competitive dual, Aaron Smith regains the start at halfback from the continually-improving TJ Perenara.
After making his long-awaited test return against Japan, Hurricanes captain Dane Coles is set to make the step up from the bench.
“He’s not right back yet but he’s well on the way. His throwing is world-class and we’ll need a good thrower for 80 minutes on Saturday. It’s nice to have that experience back.”
With the English test falling on the centenary remembrance of Armistice Day, the All Blacks will wear poppies on their jerseys as a mark of respect for those who fought and lost their lives in war.
“Whenever we play with the poppy the stories of why it’s there are talked about. It does give it a little bit of an extra emotional hit. When you get these big test matches you don’t need too much of a wind up to be ready to go but it is significant.”
All Blacks team:
1. Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Sam Whitelock, 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Squire, 7. Ardie Savea, 8. Kieran Read, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Jack Goodhue, 14. Ben Smith, 15. Damian McKenzie
Reserves: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18. Nepo Laulala, 19. Scott Barrett, 20. Matt Todd, 21. TJ Perenara, 22. Richie Mo’unga, 23. Ryan Crotty