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Kaino ends 3-year absence, returns to All Blacks for England test; Cruden named flyhalf

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand - New Zealand will build off last year's unbeaten season, and toward next year's defence of the Rugby World Cup, when they play a weakened England at Eden Park on Saturday in the first of three tests.

The All Blacks became the first team in the professional era to complete an unbeaten season when they won all 14 of their test matches in 2013.

Their only loss since their Rugby World Cup final win over France three years ago was to England at Twickenham in their last test of 2012, but New Zealand is not expected to be in danger of defeat this time because England will be without a number of frontline players who appeared in last weekend's final of the English club premiership.

England coach Stuart Lancaster still expects the players he has chosen for the first test to grasp their opportunity and to measure up to "the biggest challenge in world rugby": playing the All Blacks at home.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has had only a few selection issues: with Dan Carter still unavailable on "sabbatical", the choice for flyhalf came down to the in-form Beauden Barrett or the more seasoned but out-of-form Aaron Cruden. He opted for Cruden, relying on the Chiefs playmaker to find his form under test-match pressure.

Backrower Kieran Read — the World Rugby Player of the Year last season — is sidelined with concussion. But there is a ready-made replacement at No. 8 in 31-year-old veteran Jerome Kaino who will play his first test since the 2011 World Cup final Kaino spent two years in Japan before returning to New Zealand this year.

Lock Luke Romano is out with a broken leg and winger Julian Savea has a knee injury, but New Zealand has strong backup in those areas.

"There's been a lot of talk in the media about this being a poor England side," Hansen said. "But when you go through them they've all played internationals in the last 12 months and there are not that many changes from the last time we played them — and that was a great contest.

"They've clearly got confidence in who they are and what they're doing. Their environment seems to be one of just keeping quiet and get on and do the work, and that makes them dangerous."

New Zealand is expected to have an advantage due to the sustained pace at which it plays the game, and Hansen expects England to counter that with a game based around its forwards and set pieces.

Lancaster has tried to some degree to liberate England from that dour style but he lacks players with the ability, or even the ambition, to play attractive rugby for long periods.

He said England had made the transition from an experienced to a less mature side after the 2011 World Cup and was now used to playing against more-seasoned opponents, adding "experience is not the only barometer of what wins and loses games."


New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.

England: Mike Brown, Marland Yarde, Manusamoa Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond, Jonny May, Freddie Burns, Danny Care, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (captain),James Haskell, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury, David Wilson, Rob Webber, Joe Marler.

Reserves: Joe Gray, Matt Mullan, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Tom Johnson, Ben Youngs, Danny Cipriani, Chris Pennell.

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