Perofeta, Tuivasa-Sheck to start for All Blacks vs Japan

Fullback Stephen Perofeta and center Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will start a test for the first time when the All Blacks play Japan in Tokyo on Saturday in the opening match of their northern hemisphere tour.

Until now Perofeta has measured his All Blacks in seconds: he played less than a minute as a replacement in New Zealand’s Rugby Championship test against Argentina in Christchurch in August.

The talented Blues utility, who also plays at flyhalf, has been handed his first start in an All Blacks lineup which is slightly makeshift because of the absence of players who are injured or unavailable.

League convert Tuivasa-Sheck has been named in a new-look midfield combination with Braydon Ennor for his third test and first start. Ennor also is making a return to the New Zealand starting lineup and will play his sixth test on Saturday.

Head coach Ian Foster found midfield resources stretched in the absence of Rieko Ioane who was late leaving New Zealand because of an ear infection. With Quinn Tupaea out for the season, Jordie Barrett unavailable and David Havili making his return from a head injury on the bench, Foster has had to improvise.

The wider selection was difficult because of the absence of several players. The Barrett brothers, Jordie, Beauden and Scott, also were delayed in New Zealand because of a family bereavement.

The unavailability of lock Scott Barrett and veteran Sam Whitelock who also has an ear infection left Foster with only three fit players in the second row.

Brodie Retallick will combine there on Saturday with Tupou Vaa’i while Patrick Tuipulotu has been named on the bench for his first test since his return from Japan.

Finlay Christie will make his second test start at scrumhalf in combination with flyhalf Richi Mo’unga.

Sam Cane returns to the captaincy after his recent head injury and veteran Dane Coles will start at hooker between props Nepo Laulala and George Bower.

The All Blacks’ strong bench includes hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, scrumhalf Aaron Smith, Havili and center Anton Lienert-Brown who may make his first appearance of the year after recovering from shoulder surgery.

Lienert Brown said Japan are a “feared opponent now and it’s about us getting our stuff right, making sure we’re switched on for the whole week and we prepare as best we can. We know the challenge ahead.”

Foster is hoping on Saturday to see continuing performance from the All Blacks after their defense of the Rugby Championship. After the Japan test, New Zealand will play Wales, Scotland and England over successive weekends.

“This northern tour is going to be huge,” Foster said. “We see four incredibly tough tests ahead and this one against Japan will ask some serious questions of us.

“We want to show that we are ready to respond. We want to show that we have put in the work required to lift our game even further after the Rugby Championship.”

The All Blacks are playing Japan on their way to Britain, where they will play Wales in Cardiff on Nov. 5, Scotland in Edinburgh on Nov. 13 and England at Twickenham on Nov. 19.

___

New Zealand: Stephen Perofeta, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Caleb Clarke, Richie Mo’unga, Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Sam Cane (captain), Shannon Frizell, Tupou Vaa’i, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, George Bower. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tyrel Lomax, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dalton Papali’i, Aaron Smith, David Havili, Anton Lienert-Brown.

___

More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports