Hansen made seven changes to the run-on team that defeated England 30-22 last weekend, concerned that fatigue at the end of a gruelling season could derail the quest to complete 14 wins from 14 Tests
“It’s a reflection of the physical nature of the whole year really, particularly the last nine weeks. We’ve gone around the world twice — this will be our seventh Test in nine weeks,” he told New Zealand media.
Hansen was forced to make two changes for the Lansdowne Road clash, with star fly-half Dan Carter and prop Tony Woodcock out injured, but said he decided on a more extensive revamp to give some players a break.
“It’s just an accumulation of a lot of travel and game time,” he said. “We’ve got the ability sitting there that is fresh so why not use them?”
No international team in the professional era has enjoyed a perfect calendar year, with the All Blacks side led by Wayne Shelford — that won all seven of their Tests in 1989 — the last major nation to achieve the feat when rugby union was still an amateur sport.
However, New Zealand themselves came close to it again when they won 11 games and drew one under John Hart in 1997.
In his bid to create history, Hansen named Aaron Cruden to replace Carter and also gave halfback TJ Perenara a chance to make his Test debut from the bench.
Elsewhere in the backline, winger Cory James comes in for Charles Piutau.
In Woodcock’s absence, Hansen drafted in a completely new front row comprising Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, and Andrew Hore, who is expected to retire from international rugby after what will be his 83rd Test.
Steven Luatua replaces Liam Messam as blindside flanker and lock Luke Romano steps in for Brodie Retallick.
Ireland have not beaten the All Blacks in 27 attempts dating back to 1905, with their best result against the New Zealanders a 10-10 draw in 1973.
The most recent meeting was a 60-0 drubbing in Hamilton in June last year.
Such is the confidence among New Zealand’s sporting public that the media is already debating whether a perfect season will make the current All Blacks the best in history.
New Zealand (15-1)
Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Steven Luatua; Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano; Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.