Rugby World Cup 2019: Richie Mo'unga returns to All Blacks for South Africa showdown

All Blacks first-five Richie Mo'unga has returned from injury to face South Africa in their Rugby World Cup opener on Saturday.

Mo'unga tweaked his shoulder in the final moments of New Zealand's 36-0 Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia at Eden Park last month and was sidelined for their final World Cup hit-out against Tonga two weeks ago.

But he's been nursed back to health and was named in the No.10 jersey against the Springboks on Thursday afternoon (NZ time), with Beauden Barrett sliding to fullback, a combination that has developed over the current international window.

all blacks squad
Photo credit: Newshub.

Veteran midfielder Ryan Crotty has been named at second-five, alongside Anton Lienert-Brown, with Sonny Bill Williams coming off the bench, while lock Scott Barrett returns from suspension to reclaim his starting spot in the second row, after serving as a reserve against Tonga.

Crotty has battled injury this season, but has been eased back into play through provincial rugby and the Tongan outing.

"Ryan's come back and played really well, played outstandingly for Canterbury and played well against Tonga," says coach Steve Hansen. "He's a leader in the group, he's got a kicking game.

"He's got a strong communicative game, he talks well and has a good skillset base. 'ALB' has been the in-form midfielder for the last six months.

"I know there's a lot of talk about how we've never settled on a combination, but I think the versatility of this group allows us to play whoever we want and the combination clicks."

Eighty-test stalwart Ben Smith will cover the back three positions from the bench.

Only five starters - prop Joe Moody, lock Sam Whitelock, captain Kieran Read, Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett - have survived from the last encounter between these two old foes, when South Africa snatched a late 16-16 draw in Wellington.

Lock Brodie Retallick hasn't recovered enough from his shoulder injury, suffered in that July fixture, to make the playing line-up this time.

Other notable omissions are midfielder Jack Goodhue and winger Rieko Ioane, while late addition Shannon Frizell leapfrogs specialist openside Matt Todd as reserve loose forward.

"Any combination of players in our squad could have justified their selection, but in the end, we believe the 23 we have selected is the right group for this opposition," says Hansen.

"The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening test RWC2019 has us excited and energised by what lies ahead.

"Each time we play South Africa, it's a tight battle and a real arm wrestle.

springbok team
Photo credit: Newshub.

"This is where we want to be and we're all looking forward to the challenge."

The All Blacks starting XV boasts 756 caps, compared to South Africa's 542.

All Blacks: 1-Joe Moody, 2-Dane Coles, 3-Nepo Laulala, 4-Sam Whitelock, 5-Scott Barrett, 6-Ardie Savea, 7-Sam Cane, 8-Kieran Read, 9-Aaron Smith, 10-Richie Mo'unga, 11-George Bridge, 12-Ryan Crotty, 13-Anton Lienert-Brown, 14-Sevu Reece, 15-Beauden Barrett

Reserves: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Angus Ta'avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Shannon Frizell, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Sonny Bill Williams, 23-Ben Smith

Newshub.

Join us at 9:45pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v South Africa World Cup clash

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