Rugby World Cup 2019: Who starts for All Blacks against South Africa

OPINION: Injuries and form makes the All Blacks team to face the Springboks in their opening Rugby World Cup game a tough one to pick.

Three areas, in particular, are very tight - lock, midfield and right-wing.

Jack Goodhue has been considered the front-runner for the 13 jersey, but he hasn't played since the August 10 hammering by the Wallabies in Perth, due to a hamstring injury.

The Crusaders midfielder also has a terrible winning percentage - by All Blacks standards - of 61%, tasting victory in just five of his nine test matches.

With Anton Lienert-Brown in the form of his life, it makes sense to put him at centre, potentially outside Sonny Bill Williams, leaving Ryan Crotty to come off the bench.

Right-wing is an intriguing selection, with Sevu Reece and Ben Smith two very different candidates for the job.

Reece is an explosive attacking weapon and is a relatively unknown quantity on the international stage, much like Nehe Milner-Skudder in 2015, while Smith is an established world-class player, who provides plenty of experience.

springbok team
Photo credit: Newshub.

But coach Steve Hansen is never one to take the safe option, even if the forecast is for rain - both moisture and high kicks - at Yokohama Stadium and Reece seems likely to join Crusaders teammate George Bridge as the starting wingers.

A broken finger and a suspension means Scott Barrett hasn't seen a lot of rugby lately, and Patrick Tuipulotu has made the most of his opportunities, with Brodie Retallick also temporarily out of the picture.

The Blues second-rower has brought the brutality in his last two outings against the Wallabies and Tonga, which will be desperately needed against the big, buff South African pack, so it must be tempting to give him another start.

But Barrett's a proven performer and isn’t afraid to put his body on the line, so he will probably get the nod.

Elsewhere, selections are fairly straightforward, with the Richie Mo'unga-Beauden Barrett combination to resume at first-five and fullback, while the loose-forward trio of Kieran Read, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea just gets better and better with every game.

Predicted All Blacks team: 1-Joe Moody, 2-Dane Coles, 3-Nepo Laulala, 4-Scott Barrett, 5-Sam Whitelock, 6-Ardie Savea, 7-Sam Cane, 8-Kieran Read, 9-Aaron Smith, 10-Richie Mo'unga, 11-George Bridge, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 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-Matt Todd, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Ryan Crotty, 23-Ben Smith

John Day is a Newshub sports reporter, covering the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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