Rugby World Cup: Leicester Fainga'anuku starts on left wing for All Blacks, Finlay Christie preferred as backup halfback to face Ireland in quarter-final

Leicester Fainga'anuku will start in the No.11 jersey, named on the left wing in the only surprise for the All Blacks to face Ireland at Paris on Sunday (NZ time).

The switch comes with Mark Telea unavailable, after proving the All Blacks' first choice on the left wing so far in this tournament. Telea started against both France and Italy, considered to be the All Blacks' top side.

His absence opens the door for Fainga'anuku, who impressed in last week's victory over Uruguay by scoring a hat-trick.

Finlay Christie has won the race to be the No.2 halfback against Ireland.
Finlay Christie has won the race to be the No.2 halfback against Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

This year, Fainga'anuku scored a competition-leading 13 tries for the Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific, helping the side to a seventh title in as many years, but he won't have fond memories of facing Ireland, after he was shown a yellow card in just his second test match for an aerial tackle on opposite Mack Hansen during last year's series defeat.

Meanwhile, Finlay Christie has been preferred as the back-up halfback to Aaron Smith, with his experience seemingly giving him the tick over Cam Roigard, who has re-signed with NZ Rugby through until the end of 2027.  

Prop Ethan de Groot returns to the side for the first time since victory over Namibia, when he was shown a red card and subsequently banned for two games. De Groot also combines with Tyrel Lomax, who has overcome a knee injury suffered against Uruguay.

In the second row, Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett win the race for the two starting lock spots, with Sam Whitelock providing cover from the bench in test appearance No.151 for the All Blacks' most-capped player. 

Captain Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell and Ardie Savea form the loose forward trio, while Dalton Papali'i provides support on the bench.

Aaron Smith and Richie Mo'unga have been named at halfback and first-five respectively, Damian McKenzie will cover No.10 and fullback from the bench. 

In midfield, Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane continue their partnership, while Will Jordan and Beauden Barrett complete the back three, alongside Fainga'anuku.

On the bench, Foster has backed youth over experience in his reserve front-rowers, with the pair of Tamaiti Williams and Fletcher Newell named over Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Nepo Laulala. 

The quarter-final is a rematch of the same stage of the last World Cup in Japan four years ago, when the All Blacks took a comfortable 46-14 victory. Since then, Ireland have won four of their last six tests against coach Ian Foster's side. 

All Blacks: 1-Ethan de Groot, 2-Codie Taylor, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 4-Brodie Retallick, 5-Scott Barrett, 6-Shannon Frizell, 7-Sam Cane (c), 8-Ardie Savea, 9-Aaron Smith, 10-Richie Mo'unga, 11-Leicester Fainga'anuku, 12-Jordie Barrett, 13-Rieko Ioane, 14-Will Jordan, 15-Beauden Barrett

Reserves: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Tamaiti Williams, 18-Fletcher Newell, 19-Sam Whitelock, 20-Dalton Papali'i, 21-Finlay Christie, 22-Damian McKenzie, 23-Anton Lienert-Brown

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