WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Flyhalf Dan Carter will return to the All Blacks' starting lineup for Saturday's third rugby test against France, renewing his partnership with scrumhalf Piri Weepu who will also start for the first time this season.
Carter missed the first two matches of the three-test series after breaking a bone in his hand. But is now fully fit and will replace Aaron Cruden among five changes to the New Zealand lineup for the match at New Plymouth. New Zealand won the first test at Auckland 23-13 and the second at Christchurch 30-0.
Weepu missed the first match with concussion and began the second on the bench, allowing Aaron Smith to start both in combination with Cruden.
Rene Ranger has been rewarded for two strong performances off the bench in both tests by being named Thursday to start on the left wing in place of Julian Savea. Andrew Hore replaces Dane Coles at hooker and Victor Vito starts in place of Liam Messam on the blindside flank.
Coles has a calf injury and is the only player replaced because of injury.
None of the displaced players have been named among the All Blacks reserves, allowing coach Steve Hansen to include three uncapped players on the bench. Flankers Matt Todd and Steven Luatua, along with fullback Charles Piutau, all have the chance to make their first test appearances as replacements.
"We are committed to continue building the depth in our squad and introducing new players to test match rugby, hence why we have selected the team we have," Hansen said.
Meanwhile France coach Philippe Saint-Andre made eight changes to his lineup for the match and urged his players to embrace the challenge of playing the "best team in the world", despite the series already being lost.
"It's the first time since 1968 we have played three tests consecutively against the best team in the world and we know the New Zealand team the more they are together the better they are," Saint-Andre said.
"For this week we bring a lot of guys with few caps and the All Blacks bring back a few guys with (many) caps."
Saint-Andre said his team needed to "have a go" and to respect New Zealand, but not too much.
"It's the last game of a long, long season and we need to just be proud to wear this French jersey and try to do everything to win the game."
Saint-Andre has named Benjamin Kayser to start at hooker in place of Dimitri Szarzewski and 23-year-old lock Alexandre Flanquart to replace Christophe Samson. South African-born backrower Antonie Claassen will play his fourth test in place of Louis Picamoles, who has a bruised hip, and Damien Chouly will start on the blindside flank in a revamped loose trio.
Saint-Andre included flyhalf Remi Tales and scrumhalf Jean-Marc Doussain to combine in a new-look halves partnership with a joint total of only three caps.
The Castres pair of Marc Andreu and Brice Dulin, with six tests apiece, have been named in a changed back three as fullback Maxime Medard and winger Adrien Plante drop out of the match 23.
At the same time, Hansen resisted making another, anticipated change to his lineup by moving Ben Smith from the right wing to center in place of Conrad Smith. Ben Smith has been New Zealand's best in the first two tests, playing slightly out of position on the wing. Observers had expected him to be given a chance to show his ability at center on Saturday but Hansen has retained New Zealand's most-experienced midfield partnership of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu.
Hansen has also resisted tinkering more than necessary with a forward pack which substantially improved its performance in the second test, after being outplayed by France in the first. The only change he has made to the All Blacks tight five was forced on him by the injury to Coles.
Vito will start a test for the first time this year in place of Messam, who has so far only been moderately effective against the French.
Wyatt Crockett has retained his place at loosehead prop ahead of veteran Tony Woodcock, who missed the first test with injury but returned to the bench last weekend.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Victor Vito, Lke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Matt Todd, Steven Luatua, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.
France: Brice Dulin, Marc Andreu, Florian Fritz, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget, Remi Tales, Jean-Marc Doussain; Antonie Claassen, Damien Chouly, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Yoann Maestri, Alexandre Flanquart, Nicolas Mas, Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Dimitri Szarzewski, Eddy Ben Arous, Luc Ducalcon, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Bernard Le Roux, Maxime Machenaud, Camille Lopez, Mathieu Bastareaud.