New All Blacks Liam Messam, Kieran Read and Jamie Mackintosh will take the field as New Zealand start their Grand Slam rugby quest against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Forecast personnel changes to the side that shaded Australia 19-14 last weekend in Hong Kong were as wide-ranging as expected.
Only three players retained starting roles for a test the All Blacks management clearly see as the easiest of their European tour.
Messam and Read make their debuts in a loose forward trio covered by Richie McCaw off the bench while Mackintosh, the massive Southland prop long touted as an international class frontrower, will make his debut at loosehead.
Keven Mealamu has returned to his old starting role for the first time this season, following hooker Andrew Hore’s tour-ending ankle injury last Saturday.
The 61-test veteran also becomes the All Blacks’ 63rd captain after McCaw’s regular stand-in, Rodney So’oialo, was among the first choice players given the weekend off.
Mealamu will be covered by Corey Flynn, who returns from the wilderness via the bench for his first test since the tour match against Italy four years ago.
After Hosea Gear and Cory Jane made their debuts in the Bledisloe Cup finale last Saturday, openside flanker Scott Waldrom, prop Ben Franks and hooker Hikawera Elliot — who joined the squad yesterday as cover for the luckless Hore — are the only new players yet to see action.
Their time will come, most likely against Heineken Cup champions Munster on November 18 in Limerick — the midweek game sandwiched between the Ireland and Wales tests.
Joe Rokocoko’s return on the left wing is the feature of a revamped back division that sees only makeshift fullback Isaia Toeava and temporary pivot Stephen Donald back up from Hong Kong.
Rokocoko is poised to earn his 49th cap, and first since World Cup quarterfinal loss to France last October.
The 25-year-old was undeniably selected on trust for this tour after injuries forced him to miss the bulk of the Super 14 and provincial competitions.
As the weakest home union, Scotland looms as the ideal forum for him to rediscover a try-scoring prowess that has seen him touchdown 43 times in 48 tests since his debut as a teenager in 2003.
Sitiveni Sivivatu makes way for his cousin Rokocoko while Gear is replaced by Anthony Tuitavake.
Richard Kahui, who ended up playing the Bledisloe tests in Auckland and Brisbane on the wing after Graham Henry lost faith in Tuitavake and Rudi Wulf, is back in his preferred position at centre.
Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu’s influential cameos off the bench last weekend see them rewarded with starts at halfback and second five-eighth.
Like McCaw, match-winning five eighth Daniel Carter is available, if required, off the bench.
The versatile Messam starts at No 8 while Read is at blindside and Adam Thomson deputises for McCaw.
In the locks Ali Williams will be partnered by Anthony Boric, who starts a test for the first time since the Springboks broke their Carisbrook hoodoo in July.
Joining Rokocoko on the comeback trail is John Afoa, who replaces Neemia Tialata at tighthead after recovering from a knee injury suffered during the squad’s only pre-departure hit out against a Barbarians selection.
Knee problems that forced halfback Andy Ellis to sit out Air NZ Cup semis and final have also been resolved, enabling him to join the bench.
Despite at least 10 first choice players either spectating or on the bench as a last resort, it did not take long for the All Blacks to deny they were fielding a weakened line-up.
“We haven’t got a second team,” said assistant coach Wayne Smith after the team touched down in the Scottish capital today.
“We are playing six matches in five weeks — if you look at the logistics of that you have to play the guys that are in the squad.
“We have to manage the squad well. Part of that is keeping the energy and desire high because that’s critical.”
Henry’s counterpart Frank Hadden names his side later tonight (12am NZT) with the main New Zealand interest centered on whether former Canterbury loose forward Matt Mustchin will be involved in what Scotland hope will their first victory over the All Blacks during a rivalry spanning 103 years and 26 tests.
New Zealand: Isaia Toeava, Anthony Tuitavake, Richard Kahui, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Stephen Donald, Piri Weepu, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Kieran Read, Ali Williams, Anthony Boric, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (captain), Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Neemia Tialata, Ross Filipo, Richie McCaw, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter, Cory Jane.