All Blacks make two changes for Boks clash
July 22, 2009
Winger Joe Rokocoko has been recalled to the All Blacks line-up for this weekend's clash with South Africa © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has made two changes to his side for their latest Tri-Nations clash against South Africa in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The two changes to the side that beat Australia 22-16 in their Tri-Nations opener against Australia last weekend come in the backline with winger Joe Rokocoko getting the nod ahead of Cory Jane and scrum-half Brendon Leonard comes in for Jimmy Cowan who drops out of the 22 altogether. No.9 Piri Weepu joins the replacements for the Vodacom Park clash.
Rokocoko's recall comes despite some indifferent Super 14 form that continued during the June Tests against France and Italy but the 55-times-capped Aucklander is a proven performer overseas and Henry will be banking on a revved-up performance on the right wing. His combination with fullback Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu is a proven one, with that trio used three times in Europe during last year's tour.
Their combined Test caps of 162 is an All Blacks test record for a back three, moving ahead of the 156 shared by Muliaina, Rokocoko and Doug Howlett against Australia at Auckland two years ago.
Leonard will make just his second appearance since the 2007 Rugby World Cup, having played in last month's defeat of Italy in Christchurch. Henry indicated last week that the lively Waikato No.9 may get a run on the harder surface, which best suits his sniping style.
The All Blacks backline and forward pack are both marginally less experienced than their Springboks counterparts. The visitors' Test experience measures a healthy 565 caps but is trumped by 617 for the hosts.
There are no changes to the pack, where flanker Richie McCaw (quad), lock Isaac Ross (knee) and hooker Keven Mealamu (calf) are untroubled by niggles that have affected them early this week.
Captain McCaw and No.8 Rodney So'oialo should be better for their hitouts against Australia following two-month injury-enforced breaks. Mealamu, Weepu and loose forward Kieran Read find themselves benched again despite superb showings last week.
Assistant coach Wayne Smith said late impact was a crucial element but suggested it may not be long before the likes of Mealamu and Weepu get a starting crack.
"They may not be career bench players and I am sure the opportunity will come," Smith told NZPA. "You need 22 players and that is the fact of the matter. I don't think we would have won that game (against Australia) if we didn't have fresh players that were up to the speed of the game really quickly and came on and made a difference.
"You need those players like that with the ability to do that. They are like gold."
The nature of last week's win had given the team an extra spring, having fought back from 10-0 down. Smith hoped it would stand them in good stead if the Springboks get an early jump on Saturday.
"It's something we have worked on. All of last year it was a real focus for us -- mentally being able to come back from situations. It only takes 20 seconds to score a try," he said.
"There were other games as well last year when we were down. Maybe we should start better. It is certainly a source of pride that that spirit is there and that togetherness was there when the pressure went on."
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs); J Rokocoko (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), M Nonu (Hurricanes), S Sivivatu (Chiefs); S Donald (Chiefs), B Leonard (Chiefs); T Woodcock (Blues), A Hore (Hurricanes), N Tialata (Hurricanes), B Thorn (Crusaders), I Ross (Crusaders), J Kaino (Blues), R McCaw (Crusaders), R So'oialo (Hurricanes).
Replacements: K Mealamu (Blues), O Franks (Crusaders), J Eaton (Hurricanes), K Read (Crusaders), P Weepu (Crusaders), L McAlister (Blues), C Jane (Hurricanes).
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