Rugby World Cup 2023: Sam Whitelock to equal Richie McCaw's All Blacks record v Namibia
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The nine changes, the first All Blacks start for Cam Roigard, the chance for Damian McKenzie to uncork his attacking skills ... they all pale behind the significance of this second Rugby World Cup test for the lock forward his coach call his “warrior”.  

As one of a half-dozen starters asked to back up from last Saturday’s first-up 27-13 defeat to France, Sam Whitelock will achieve something very special indeed at Stadium de Toulouse on Saturday (NZT) when he no doubt leads the team out to earn his 148th test cap for the All Blacks.

That will put the 34-year-old Crusaders lock level with the great Richie McCaw as the most capped All Black of all time, and the equal second highest in international rugby (it will also be his 21st RWC appearance, just one short of the record held by McCaw and Jason Leonard). It will be a special subtest to a game the All Blacks should run away with as they look to get their World Cup back on track after their first ever defeat in the pool stages.

“It’s a massive occasion for Sam, and for us as a team,” said Foster in Toulouse soon after unveiling his lineup. “He's been a warrior for this team for a long time and to equal someone like Richie in test matches for the All Blacks is a massive achievement.

“We all know how much it means for him to put on a black jersey, and to do it for the 148th time is a very special occasion, and we want to make sure we put a performance that gives that record a lot of respect, and then celebrate it with him afterwards.”

Added stand-in skipper Ardie Savea, who will lead the New Zealanders for a second straight time at this World Cup as Sam Cane continues to deal with his problem back: “He's been around for a long time, and something I really admire is the way he goes about his mahi.

“Everyone knows he's a hard worker, but just seeing him grow and adapt has been special. He’s been in this team since the likes of Richie and Reado (Kieran Read) and then you've got the younger generation coming through and the way Sammy is able to relate to everyone and try and understand other people and other cultures is something I look at, and be like, ‘yo, I got your back’.”

Among the nine run-on changes (plus a positional shift for Anton Lienert-Brown), there is a first test start for young halfback Roigard in the must-win Pool A clash. It is clearly his chance to back up on his strong showing in Melbourne and press claims for the backup spot behind Aaron Smith in pivotal contests looming.

Roigard will partner McKenzie in the halves in a combination dripping with attacking intention, as the Chiefs playmaker gets another crack at No 10 in a clash the New Zealanders should win with plenty to spare. Whether he can play his way into the top 23 is doubtful, but the fleet-footed weapon will be keen to erase the memories of his sub-par game last time out in Dunedin.

Foster said he wants to see the 42-test McKenzie, in his World Cup debut, “run the game the way we want to play” and felt he was “very clear about what we want to achieve”. Roigard, too, has received a simple message: “Just carry on the progress of what he's doing.”

All Black halfback TJ Perenara scores the try of the tournament

All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara scores the try of the tournament during big win over Namibia in Tokyo.

The starting XV survivors from Stade de France are prop Nepo Laulala, Whitelock, loose forwards Dalton Papalii and skipper Savea, fullback Beauden Barrett and midfielder Lienert-Brown who moves out a spot to centre.

Regular starters Ethan de Groot, Scott Barrett, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga and Rieko Ioane are all on the bench for this match.

Skipper Sam Cane was still unavailable while he works back from a back strain, while Jordie Barrett was also not considered while he searches for full fitness after a knee injury. Prop Tyrel Lomax and loose forward Shannon Frizell are also in that category.

Foster said Cane was “not that close” as he continues to work through back issues. “He had a couple of days that he sort of plateaued, but the last two days have been really good. So we're hoping that he's getting back into training next week.”

He said Jordie Barrett fell into a similar category. “The knee is not too bad, and it's just the jarring of it that irritates it. We've had a chance to take him out this week and not try to even test it. We'll be doing that next week in Bordeaux.”

Caleb Clarke and Leicester Fainga’anuku form a power wing tandem that the Namibians will have to watch closely, David Havili comes in to partner Lienert-Brown in midfield, and in the pack Luke Jacobson gets the shot at No 6, Whitelock is joined in the second row by a fit-again Brodie Retallick as the pair extend their world record starting combination to 66 tests and Ofa Tuungafasi and Samisoni Taukei’aho slot into the front row.

“We've had a plan about how we want to approach this,” said Foster, shrugging off any suggestions he might have been tempted to run it back with the team from Stade de France. “We've also had to adapt that plan based on injuries, and who's coming back. But we're pretty satisfied. We obviously need to rebound from round one, so it's a key game for us to get right, and we've selected it accordingly.”

This will be the third meeting between the All Blacks and Namibia, all at World Cups. The New Zealanders prevailed 58-14 in London in 2015 and 71-9 in Japan in 2019.

All Blacks: Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Damian McKenzie, Cam Roigard; Ardie Savea (capt), Dalton Papalii, Luke Jacobson, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Samison Taukei’aho, Ofa Tuungafasi. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ethan de Groot, Fletcher Newell, Scott Barrett, Tupou Vaa’i, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane.