Nonu returns for experienced All Blacks
July 6, 2010
Ma'a Nonu trains at Eden Park ahead of Saturday's Tri-Nations opener © Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu was called up for his first Test of the year as New Zealand selectors named the most experienced line-up in All Blacks history for their Tri-Nations opener.
New Zealand will meet South Africa in Auckland on Saturday night with 671 appearances under their belts thanks to the introduction of Nonu and fellow changes Joe Rokocoko, Conrad Smith and Owen Franks.
Nonu (with 46 caps), Rokocoko (62) and Smith (35) are key contributors in making this starting XV eclipse the 649 caps for the All Blacks' opening match of the 2007 World Cup against Italy in Marseille.
Coach Graham Henry said he and assistants Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith had gone for proven test performers to face the World Cup holders and defending Tri-Nations champions.
"There are a lot of young guys knocking on the door and they will get their opportunity in time, just like the guys who are taking the field have had to wait to get their opportunity," he said. "It's important to play the experienced players initially and let them prove they are good enough still to be there, and I'm sure they are."
Nonu comes in for Benson Stanley after just 70 minutes of club rugby since injuring his knee in the Hurricanes' final Super 14 match in mid-May. He will line up alongside long-time midfield partner Smith, who has recovered from an eye injury to replace Richard Kahui. Henry is confident Nonu will get into his stride at Eden Park despite limited game time.
"He'll be a bit apprehensive, that's only natural," he said. "But once he gets on the bike in the heat of battle, he will be fine."
Rokocoko, recalled to the All Blacks for the home series last month after being left out of the end-of-season tour last year, gets the left wing berth in place of the dropped Zac Guildford. Rokocoko has scored 45 tries in 62 tests and Henry said the media attention on the player was unwarranted. He cited how Rokocoko had come back strongly in this year's Super 14, which he ended as equal top tryscorer with nine, and his performances in his two tests last month.
Tighthead prop Franks returns for Neemia Tialata, with Henry identifying scrummaging as one area for improvement after the series against Wales. Fullback Mils Muliaina and lock Tom Donnelly are retained after returning to the international arena in the second test against Wales following injury spells.
Henry was confident the pair were ready to face opponents of the quality of the Springboks. He said both would have been pleased with the way they had performed against the Welsh, adding that it would have been above their expectations. Muliaina, whose 83 caps make him the equal most experienced player in the 22 with skipper Richie McCaw, played the full 80 minutes in Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Henry said Donnelly carried out his core requirements well in Hamilton before coming off in the second half.
"He was good at the lineout and good at the kickoff, did his business in the scrum, played his 55 minutes," he said. "That was pleasing, so I think they are ahead of where they thought they might have been a couple of weeks ago."
The Springboks, who assembled in Auckland on Monday night, have delayed the naming of their side until Thursday because of injury concerns over locks Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw.
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs); C Jane (Hurricanes), C Smith (Hurricanes), M Nonu (Hurricanes), J Rokocoko (Blues); D Carter (Crusaders), J Cowan (Highlanders); T Woodcock (Blues), K Mealamu (Blues), O Franks (Crusaders), B Thorn (Crusaders), T Donnelly (Highlanders), J Kaino (Blues), R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), K Read (Crusaders)
Replacements: C Flynn (Crusaders), B Franks (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), L Messam (Chiefs), P Weepu (Hurricanes), A Cruden (Hurricanes), R Kahui (Chiefs)
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