Smith gets surprise call up to All Blacks captaincy

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Halfback Aaron Smith has surprisingly been named captain for the All Blacks test against Fiji in Dunedin in what will be his 98th match for the side.

He replaces Sam Whitelock who led the side in the absence of the injured Sam Cane in the side’s season opener against Tonga last weekend.

Highlanders prop Ethan de Groot is set to make his test debut, being named on the bench.

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Smith has a chequered off field history.

In 2016 he had to make made a tearful public apology after being caught having sex with a woman in a Christchurch airport toilet before the All Blacks were due to fly to South Africa for a test match.

An NZR disciplinary hearing later descirbed his behaviour as amounting to “serious misconduct.”

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In 2012, Smith was benched ahead of a test against South Africa in Dunedin for breaching team protocol after missing a team curfew and in2014 a naked selfie of Smith was also posted on the internet.

In appointing Smith captain All Blacks coach Ian Foster said “Aaron is a special player with real mana and a natural leader and his preparation is second to none. I’m sure he, his wife Teagan and his wider whānau will be proud of what he has achieved.”

In the starting front row, George Bower moves from his bench Test debut last week to make his first Test start at loosehead prop, alongside hooker Codie Taylor and tighthead Nepo Laulala, who will be playing his 30th Test.

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Tyrel Lomax again provides prop cover, alongside de Groot, on the bench.

81-Test lock Brodie Retallick makes hisreturn to the All Blacks matchday 23, starting alongside Patrick Tuipulotu, with Sam Whitelock moving to the bench.

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Aaron Smith
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

In the loose forwards, Ethan Blackadder moves from the bench to make his first Test start in the seven jersey, Shannon Frizell is at blindside flanker and Hoskins Sotutu is at eight. Luke Jacobson provides loose forward cover in the 20 jersey.

In the backs, Beauden Barrett starts at first five in place Richie Mo’unga who is rested.

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David Havili will start at second five, in his first test appearance since 2017.

Rieko Ioane is at centre while George Bridge retains his spot on the left wing, Sevu Reece is on the right and Jordie Barrett is at fullback.

Providing back cover from the bench are Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie and Will Jordan.

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-RNZ

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