Hansen explains Smith absence, tips Jordie Barrett to shine


New Zealand full-back Ben Smith has been cleared of concussion, with head coach Steve Hansen revealing an "inner ear malfunction" was the reason for the full-back being ruled out of the second and third Tests against the British and Irish Lions.

Smith came off in the first half of the series opener at Eden Park with an apparent head injury and sat out last weekend's Test in Wellington.

The vastly experienced 31-year-old has also been left out for this weekend's decider, but Hansen said: "He doesn't have a concussion problem, he wasn't knocked out."

Explaining Smith's absence, Hansen added: "What he does have is an inner ear malfunction, which is causing him to get a bit of vertigo and dizziness. That's now cleared and that's great news for him and [his wife] Katy.

"It takes a weight off their shoulders knowing that what we've deemed to think was concussion two or three times this year was actually another problem, which they've now been able to identify and start to medicate him and fix which is great news."

Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane will also be missing for the All Blacks on Saturday. Naholo is being given more time to recover from the concussion he suffered in the second Test, while Ioane was ill earlier in the week.

In their absence, Israel Dagg and the recalled Julian Savea will start on the wings, with Jordie Barrett set to make his first start at full-back.

Barrett - the younger brother of All Blacks fly-half Beauden - has been backed to shine by Hansen.

"He's very good aerial - they're gonna give us plenty of high ball to catch and he's a good defender when he gets his positioning right, we've worked hard on that with him," said the New Zealand coach.

"He's a very skilful rugby player, there's no doubt about that. He played well enough for the Hurricanes against the Lions and we're excited. With Bender [Smith] obviously not being available and then the other two wingers not being considered, he's in.

"Do we have confidence? Yeah, we do, we wouldn't have picked him in the first place if we didn't. He comes from fairly good stock so I'm picking he will go alright.

"Whatever he does on Saturday is just the beginning, he's just going to get better and better. But he wouldn't be put in the position if we didn't trust him. We do."