All Blacks look to complete perfect pool
October 2, 2011
Kieran Read will make his first start of the tournament for the All Blacks © Getty Images
New Zealand have started the tournament in ominous form but injuries to key personnel have rocked the camp ahead of their final pool encounter with Canada in Wellington.
Fly-half Dan Carter has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a groin injury suffered in training on Saturday while captain Richie McCaw has also been sidelined for the Canucks clash with the recurrence of a foot complaint. Both were due to start the game and as a result coach Graham Henry has been forced to juggle his options as they look to power into the quarter-finals having already booked their passage with bonus point victories over Tonga, Japan and France.
Canada impressed in the build-up to the tournament with a strong Churchill Cup campaign and victories over the USA and Tonga and they backed that up with another success against the Tongans in one of the matches of the tournament thus far. But a subsequent defeat to France and a draw against Japan leaves means an unlikely bonus point victory will only guarantee them a return to the World Cup stage in 2015.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Mils Muliaina makes his 99th appearance for the All Blacks on Sunday and will look to prove to Graham Henry that he is the premier option for the fullback berth. With the prospect of a relatively open game on the cards, Muliaina will look to exploit any frailties in the Canucks' defence.
New Zealand - Team News: Colin Slade takes on the playmaker role in the absence of Carter while Victor Vito fills in at openside instead of McCaw. Muliaina comes in at fullback in just one of a raft of alterations. Israel Dagg shifts to the wing in place of Cory Jane while Sonny Bill Williams starts at centre alongside Conrad Smith with Ma'a Nonu rested. Jimmy Cowan gets the nod at scrum-half with Piri Weepu providing cover from the bench. Kieran Read takes his World Cup bow at the back of the scrum with Adam Thomson missing out. Andrew Hore starts at hooker in place of Keven Mealamu and will skipper the side while Ali Williams begins the game in the second-row.
Canada - Player to Watch: DTH Van der Merwe has arguably been the standout outside centre thus far in the tournament and he will look to improve his stock come Sunday. Possessing the ability to unlock even the most bullish of defences, Van der Merwe will face stern opposition in the guise of Sonny Bill Williams.
Canada - Team News: Kieran Crowley makes one change for the clash with the All Blacks. Fullback James Pritchard, who hobbled off just 27 minutes into Tuesday's draw with Japan, misses out so Matt Evans switches to fullback and Conor Trainor comes into the side on the right wing.
Key Battle: Canada's Chauncey O'Toole was tipped as one of the potential stars of the tournament and while he will be disappointed not to be going head-to-head with McCaw, he will relish the battle with his replacement Victor Vito.
Stats: Ma'a Nonu - who will miss the clash - has made 13 clean breaks so far in the tournament - more than any other player in the tournament.
Trivia: The All Blacks have won 88 of the 100 Test matches that Richie McCaw has featured in but just 19 of the 27 (70%) he has not played in.
"We are looking to improve each week during the World Cup, with an increase in intensity and execution and we will be looking to do that again this week."
"I'll be happy with 21-20 to us and we've scored three converted tries"
Prediction: The All Blacks may be reeling from a couple of body blows but they should still have far too much for a Canada side that is improving but lacks the star power to worry their formidable rivals.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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