All Blacks coach Steve Hansen remains adamant that Kieran Read is the right player to lead the side to the World Cup next year.
In the wake of the loss to Ireland at the weekend there’s been discussion as to whether Read, at 33 years old, is still a first choice number eight.
Hansen has made 11 changes to the starting fifteen for this weekend’s final test of the year against Italy in Rome, as they seek to end the year on a high following the Dublin loss.
Loose forwards Read and Ardie Savea and backs Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie are the only survivors.
The 33 year old Read has played 117 tests and the veteran doesn’t appear to have the spring in his step he once did but Hansen has no intention of making any change.
“He’s going well. He’s in the best shape he has been all year. He’s had some tough moments during the course of the year which I think have been great for him and he comes through those fine.
“He’s got all the respect in the world from the team and his position is not under threat,” said Hansen.
While Read remains in place, the entire front and second rows have changed for the Italian clash with hooker Dane Coles and prop Nepo Laulala getting some game time after injury blighted seasons.
Patrick Tuipulotu starts at lock alongside Scott Barrett, while Vaea Fifita is at blindside.
Sam Whitelock has already returned home, while Brodie Retallick is lock cover on the bench.
Aaron and Ben Smith get a rest with TJ Perenara at halfback and Jordie Barrett and Waisake Naholo on the wings, while Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown have a chance to impress in the midfield.
Hansen felt he had an excited group of players, keen to make the most of their opportunity.
“The group is aware that this is our last week together and they’re determined to really prepare well, play well and enjoy every moment of the week.
“After two big Tests, it’s been necessary to make some changes and those guys who have come in have provided a real energy and enthusiasm to our week’s preparation.”
Richie Mo’unga misses out on a start, he’ll once again provide cover from the bench as Hansen continues his experiment with two playmakers in Barrett and McKenzie at first-five and fullback, respectively.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Jordie Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumpae, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (c), Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Brodie Retallick, Dalton Papali’i, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane.