All Blacks wield the axe
June 16, 2009
Kieran Read has retained his place in the All Blacks side to face France © Getty Images
The All Blacks have rung the changes for their second Test against France in Wellington on Saturday, with their back-row being dismantled in the wake of a 27-22 loss to Les Bleus last weekend. The inexperienced trio of Kieran Read, Adam Thomson and Liam Messam were outfought by a bullish French back-row and only Read has survived to right the wrongs of their Carisbrook defeat.
Thomson has been ruled out for six weeks with a broken hand while Messam drops out of the 22 despite scoring an impressive try against the French. Read shifts to No.8, with Jerome Kaino returning and Tanerau Latimer slotting in on the openside.
Hooker Andrew Hore has also been ruled out with injury, Keven Mealamu stepping in to the front-row as Hore's ribs continue to heal. In the backs, there is a welcome return for centre Conrad Smith, who has recovered from injury to replace the disappointing Isaia Toeava. Smith links up with his Hurricanes team-mate Ma'a Nonu, with Stephen Donald and Jimmy Cowan retaining their starting places at halfback.
"It's not an experiment. These are the guys we believe are the best available so we've selected them," said All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen of the new back-row. "It'll be a challenge for the three of them, they're coming together as a new combo. For them to work, in any rugby game, your tight five have got to work and do the job going forward. A number of people didn't play well because the French didn't allow us to and we didn't front up."
The deficiencies in the front-five were not enough to save the talented Messam however, the Chiefs man being told to tighten up by the management.
"Liam has to get more consistent within the game. He's a real athlete and he does some wonderful things and then he does some silly things that are prone to error," Hansen said. "That's something he's been working on for a while. He probably didn't have his best night in that department last week."
Hansen was of no doubt that Read could succeed at No.8 despite having only played a handful of games in the position. The All Blacks are looking long-term with the Canterbury man as Rodney So'oialo's replacement.
"If he's going to hold down a No.1 spot in the side, then eight is an option," he said. "Rodney's an older player and Reado's a younger player so at some stage it might be time for Rodney to finish and we'd like to have a replacement. But he could ideally go to six. He's one of those versatile people.
"We'd like to see (Kaino) play the way he played last year. He played very forcefully, his aggression levels were high. We'd expect nothing less from him this year."
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina (captain), Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Tanerau Latimer, Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Bryn Evans, George Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Luke McAlister, Isaia Toeava
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