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All Blacks looking to 'put the foot on the throat' of England as Fekitoa starts

The Kiwis are looking to equal the longest run of wins in international rugby with their 17th consecutive victory.

Haka leader Liam Messam has been dropped to the bench as Kieran Read returns.
Haka leader Liam Messam has been dropped to the bench as Kieran Read returns.
Image: Photosport/Dianne Manson/INPHO

THE ALL BLACKS have their sights on a world record run of victories as they look to ram home their dominance over England in Saturday’s third and final Test in Hamilton.

Although New Zealand wrapped up the series by winning the first two Tests, assistant coach Ian Foster said: “We don’t feel we’ve put the foot on the throat to the point we want to.”

The All Blacks have made only two injury-related changes as they work on getting their preferred starting line-up playing with more consistency.

However England, with the series gone, have swung the axe and made seven changes as their quest to beat the All Blacks now becomes a search for sound combinations before they host next year’s World Cup.

At stake for New Zealand is not only a further chance to gain a psychological blow over England, but also to become the most successful tier-one Test nation.

They’ve already won 16 Tests in-a-row and a win on Saturday will equal the record of 17 held by the All Blacks (1965-69) and Springboks (1997-98).

International player of the year Kieran Read returns for the home team now he is over his concussion issues and enterprising centre Malakai Fekitoa gets his first Test start in place of the injured Conrad Smith.

Ma'a Nonu makes a break Ma'a Nonu will be part of an exciting midfield battle. Source: Photosport/|Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The misfiring Aaron Cruden retains the No.10 jersey ahead of the in-form Beauden Barrett with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen saying one new combination in the backs was enough when trying to produce a complete performance.

Hansen described Fekitoa as a “special” player and was not concerned about the rawness of his partnership with veteran Ma’a Nonu in the midfield.

“They’ll be a good combination going forward. But like with any new combination, it takes time,” he said.

There will be mistakes. It’s just what we do when we make the mistakes and how quickly we repair it. I’m not too concerned. I think (Fekitoa’s) going to be a special player.”

The return of Read to partner Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino re-establishes a partnership last seen together when the All Blacks beat France in the 2011 World Cup final.

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Despite winning the first two Tests, it was only in the third quarter of the second Test, when the All Blacks ran in three tries, that they played at a considerably higher level than England.

The aim in Hamilton is to produce that performance for 80 minutes.

Malakai Fekitoa Explosive Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa makes his first start for New Zealand. Source: Photosport/Dianne Manson/INPHO

“That’s our primary driver so I guarantee there’ll be no complacency,” Foster said.

Among the wholesale changes in the England line-up, the experiment of playing Manu Tuilagi on the wing has been abandoned and he returns to the No. 13 jersey to ensure a baptism of fire for Fekitoa.

Freddie Burns has regained the fly-half spot with Ben Youngs at scrum-half and Kyle Eastmond at inside centre, while Chris Ashton comes in on the wing.

In the forwards, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola take over from Rob Webber, Joe Launchbury and Ben Morgan.

I still think we are finding out who can really deliver at the highest level,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said. ”Our aim was to win a Test series and we are disappointed that we haven’t.

“We have progressed as a squad during this tour and while there has been challenges with the end of season scheduling affecting selection it has been a great opportunity to work with a wider group of players and test many of them at the highest level in the build up to the World Cup.”

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Tony Woodcock, Dane Coles, Owen Franks; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt.), Kieran Read.

Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Messam, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.

England: Mike Brown; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond, Marland Yarde; Freddie Burns, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley, David Wilson; Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling; Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (capt.), Billy Vunipola.

Replacements:  Rob Webber, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brooks, Joe Launchbury, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, Danny Cipriani, Luther Burrell.

Referee: Jerome Garces (FRA)

- © AFP, 2014

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