Battle lines draw for Cardiff showdown
November 25, 2010
New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams returns to the international stage this weekend © Getty Images
New Zealand have restored hooker Keven Mealamu to their starting line-up for Saturday's potential Grand Slam-clinching clash with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The selection of the Blues front-rower, who earns a recall after missing the wins over Scotland and Ireland through suspension, is one of five changes to the starting line-up that emerged victorious in Dublin last weekend. Lock Brad Thorn returns from a hamstring injury to win his 50th cap, with hooker Andrew Hore set to bring up his own half-century if he is called upon from the bench.
Thorn will be partnered in the second-row by Sam Whitelock, who scored a try as a second-half replacement against Ireland, while Jimmy Cowan gets the nod at scrum-half ahead of Andy Ellis. Centre Sonny Bill Williams gets the chance to add to his burgeoning reputation as he is handed his third Test start alongside Conrad Smith in midfield. The other change to the starting XV sees Isaia Toeava start on the right wing as Cory Jane drops out of the 22.
Fly-half Dan Carter, who is just three short of breaking Jonny Wilkinson's all-time Test points record of 1,178, is also named after sitting out training on Tuesday with a slight ankle complaint while Daniel Braid provides the back-row cover on the bench.
Ryan Jones has kept his Wales place despite losing the captaincy to hooker Matthew Rees. Jones described it as "the worst 20 minutes" of his rugby career, but Gatland has handed him a reprieve although he moves from blindside flanker to No.8 instead of Jonathan Thomas with Dan Lydiate wearing the number six shirt and fit-again Sam Warburton preferred to his Cardiff Blues colleague Martyn Williams at openside. Jones, Lydiate, winger George North, fullback Lee Byrne and prop Adam Jones are the only survivors from the Fiji clash.
Both Warburton and prop Gethin Jenkins have recovered from calf muscle injuries that ruled them out of the South Africa and Fiji games earlier this month, while there is a surprise recall for powerful Blues wing Tom James. James, who was not included in Gatland's original autumn Test squad, is parachuted straight into the team after being preferred to Aled Brew, Chris Czekaj, Will Harries and Tom Prydie to replace dislocated shoulder victim Shane Williams.
There are nine changes and two back-row positional switches from the Fiji match, with returning players including centre Tom Shanklin, half-backs Stephen Jones and Mike Phillips, locks Bradley Davies and Alun-Wyn Jones, plus hooker Rees, who captained Wales in recent weeks against Australia and South Africa. Both Thomas and Martyn Williams are on the bench, where Gatland has opted for five forwards and just two backs in scrum-half Richie Rees and centre Andrew Bishop.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), T James (Cardiff Blues); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), P James (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), A Powell (Wasps), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Rees (Cardiff Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys).
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs); I Toeava (Blues), C Smith (Hurricanes), SB Williams (Crusaders), H Gear (Hurricanes); D Carter (Crusaders), J Cowan (Highlanders); T Woodcock (Blues), K Mealamu (Blues), O Franks (Crusaders), B Thorn (Crusaders), S Whitelock (Crusaders), J Kaino (Blues), R McCaw (Crusaders, captain), K Read (Crusaders).
Replacements: A Hore (Hurricanes), J Afoa (Blues), A Boric (Blues), D Braid (Queensland Reds), A Ellis (Crusaders), S Donald (Chiefs), M Nonu (Hurricanes).
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (SA), David Changleng (Scotland)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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