The All Blacks have made 12 alterations for their Pool C match against Namibia tonight as the world’s No.1 team take on the lowest-ranked side in the competition at the Olympic Stadium.
In what will be the first-ever meeting between the two nations Namibia go in search of a first ever win at a World Cup finals.
The African side, in fact, has lost all 15 of their matches at Rugby World Cups, with an average losing margin of 55.
However, the odds will be against them as the viscous All Blacks has never lost a Pool match, winning all 25 of their games since the inaugural competition in 1987.
Steve Hansen, New Zealand head coach, has made 12 changes to give his starting XV a refreshed look with only Sam Whitelock, Julian Savea and exciting winger Nehe Milner-Skudder maintaining their positions from the side that faced Argentina.
There is 660 test caps’ worth of experience on the All Blacks bench, which also has three test centurions in Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Captain Richie McCaw.
With their iconic skipper on the sidelines, Sam Cane will captain New Zealand for the first time. The 23-year old comes in for McCaw at flanker, becoming the All Blacks fifth youngest skipper of all time.
But Hansen has said Cane has the potential to succeed iconic leader McCaw, who is set to retire after the Rugby World Cup.
“He is in our leadership group, is hugely respected by everyone, is a fierce and fearless player and is someone who has the potential of being a long-term captain of the All Blacks in the future,” Hansen told www.allblacks.com.
Sonny Bill Williams, following an excellent cameo against the Pumas on Sunday, is one of the players coming into the team while the return of prop Charlie Faumuina to the front row from injury cannot be underestimated
Namibia, led by Saracens flanker Jacques Burger will know the size of the task at hand but will be hopeful of competing at the breakdown with their powerful pack.
Former Cardiff Blues and Scarlets coach, Phil Davies is the current chief of Namibian rugby, and he has made eight alterations to the starting XV that clinched the African Championship with a 80-6 win over Zimbabwe in August.
Their uncompromising hooker Tosten van Jaarsveld takes the number 2 shirt and will be hoping to make an impression with his impressive ball-carrying skills.
Players to Watch
The Rugby League convert dragged the All Blacks to victory with a pulsating cameo in Sunday’s edgy 26-16 triumph over Argentina at Wembley. The 30-year-old former New Zealand boxing champion now comes in to start and will be hoping his fantastic trademark offload, which can unlock any defence at any time, can create a few try-scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The Olympic Stadium is set for one way traffic as the most dominant side in World Rugby step out against a team that lacks players anywhere near the same level of quality all over the field. It should be a thrilling game with lots of tries for New Zealand, but it would be nice if Namibia could get on the scoreboard.
New Zealand by 75
New Zealand: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Tony Woodcock, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Richie McCaw, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Ma’a Nonu, 23 Ben Smith.
Namibia: 15 Johan Tromp, 14 David Philander, 13 JC Greyling, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 Conrad Marais, 10 Theuns Kotzè, 9 Eugene Jantjies, 8 Leneve Damens, 7 Tinus du Plessis, 6 Jacques Burger (capt), 5 Pieter-Jan van Lill, 4 Tjiuee Uanivi, 3 Johannes Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Casper Viviers, 18 Raoul Larson, 19 Renaldo Bothma, 20 Janco Venter, 21 Rohan Kitshoff, 22 Eneill Buitendag, 23 Chrysander Botha.
Date: Thursday, September 24
Venue: The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London
Kick-off: 20:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)