All Blacks return for Ranfurly showdown
August 27, 2009
Richie McCaw returns to action with Canterbury this weekend © Getty Images
Round five of the Air New Zealand Cup kicked off on Thursday with Southland's 24-22 victory over North Harbour, but all eyes are on Saturday's huge Ranfurly Shield showdown between holders Wellington and a Canterbury squad laden with All Black talent.
Dan Carter, fresh from kicking New Zealand to Tri-Nations victory over the Wallabies last weekend, will wear No.10 for the Cantabs, with Richie McCaw and Brad Thorn bolstering the pack. George Whitelock will lead the side as normal and only No.8 Kieran Read is missing from the All Black complement.
Wellington boss Jamie Joseph has relented in part on his policy of not selecting All Blacks for one-off appearances, naming Ma'a Nonu at outside-centre, Cory Jane at fullback and Rodney So'oialo at No.8. Scrum-half Piri Weepu and prop Neemia Tialata are out injured.
On Friday, Hawke's Bay host Tasman at McLean Park. The home side lost out to Southland last weekend after failing to break down an organised defence. Fly-half Andrew Goodman leads Tasman after their narrow loss to Canterbury last time out, with his halfback partner Kahn Fotuali'i. Ben Franks starts in the front-row.
Former New Zealand Warriors rugby league playmaker Michael Witt is set to make his first class rugby union debut from the Otago replacements bench against Northland. Otago slumped to another disappointing loss last weekend, 19-12 to Manawatu, and will desperately want to strike back.
Witt will go up against the in-form Lachie Munro in the Northland side, who will be buoyant after a 26-23 win over North Harbour last weekend.
Counties Manukau will be hoping to pile more misery on struggling Waikato, with added confidence in their chances after a big 33-21 win over Taranaki last weekend. Sherwin Stowers starts on the wing for Counties after his explosive display last weekend, with All Black Lelia Masaga named on the opposite wing.
Waikato coach Chris Gibbes will hope the injection of All Blacks Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald at scrum-half and fly-half respectively can address their attacking problems after they lost out to pace-setters Bay of Plenty.
Manawatu's latest challenge comes in the form of Taranaki, who will be hurting after a limp display against Counties. Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith start at halfback for Manawatu, with Johnny Leota named in the centre. Josh Bradnock leads the side.
The round concludes with table-toppers Bay of Plenty facing Auckland for the inaugural John Drake Boot on Sunday.
The trophy, a boot electroplated in silver, commemorates former All Black and Auckland representative prop, John Drake, who died suddenly last December at the age of 49. He wore the boot in the 1987 World Cup final defeat of France.