Ireland and New Zealand opt for big-guns
November 14, 2008
Joe Rokocoko will again start on the wing for the All Blacks © Getty Images
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has sprung a surprise by naming Tomas O'Leary at scrum-half for Saturday's clash with New Zealand at Croke Park.
O'Leary has been given the nod ahead of Eoin Reddan, who drops to the bench as one of six changes to the side which thumped Canada 55-0 last weekend.
The 25-year-old O'Leary, unavailable against Canada because of a foot injury, won his only cap in Argentina last year and has been rewarded for an impressive season at Munster.
Kidney has opted for the experience of Girvan Dempsey at full-back, recalling the Leinsterman at the expense of promising rookie Keith Earls.
Two changes in the front row see prop John Hayes and hooker Rory Best replace Tony Buckley and Jerry Flannery, who settle for a place among the substitutes.
A tough call in the back row sees Alan Quinlan usurp Stephen Ferris, a star performer against Canada, at blindside flanker with David Wallace replacing Shane Jennings in the number seven jersey.
Brian O'Driscoll will lead the team for the 50th time as Ireland seek their first victory over the All Blacks in 22 Tests. Tri-Nations champions New Zealand kicked off their European tour with a 32-6 triumph over Scotland last Saturday.
Kidney said his team selection was tailored to the All Blacks with experience influencing his thinking. "The changes weren't easy because the boys did well against Canada at the weekend," he said. "We have selected a team with a skill set that gives us the best possible chance on Saturday.
"Alan Quinlan and David Wallace have a wealth of experience at international and provincial level. Girvan has been playing very well and we saw him as the best option at full-back. New Zealand are the Tiger Woods of world rugby, they're an extremely good side.
"This is probably the toughest time to play them. They have the objective of winning a Grand Slam tour. We have no illusions as to how hard it will be but we want to test ourselves against the best."
Having easily protected one unbeaten test record with a largely inexperienced starting 15 at Murrayfield last week, the All Blacks have given Ireland total respect.
They have named their strongest line-up for a historic first meeting of the teams at Croke Park, the citadel of Gaelic sport. Only four All Blacks that started against Scotland - Joe Rokocoko, Ma'a Nonu, Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu - will back up this weekend. After beating Scotland 32-6, the All Blacks strive to protect another unbeaten streak against Ireland ranging back to the 1905 Originals' tour. Williams is the only member of the tour party to start each match, starting with the Bledisloe Cup stopover in Hong Kong.
Mealamu - captain against Scotland - almost emulated his Auckland team-mate by replacing Andrew Hore five minutes into the 19-14 defeat of the Wallabies on November 1. Williams and Mealamu are now on Graham Henry's prescribed three-test match playing limit - though a dispensation may be made for two of the pack leaders, given they have not played the full 80 minutes in either match.
The starting 15 offered little scope for debate, except at centre where Conrad Smith was given the job ahead of the in-form Richard Kahui. Kahui gave a man-of-the-match performance against the Scots, though Smith was impressive against the Wallabies.
Mils Muliaina, his parental leave expired, predictably reclaims the fullback berth from solid stand-in Isaia Toeava. Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu have an opportunity to find form in tandem after being teamed together for the first time since the World Cup quarter-final loss to France.
The established back row combination of Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino is retained while Kieran Read's addition to the bench after a strong debut against the Scots suggests he may have supplanted Adam Thomson as cover for all three loose-forward positions.
Brad Thorn is poised to play his first test on northern hemisphere soil - seven years after he surprisingly turned down the opportunity to tour Argentina, Ireland and Scotland. The starting front row is also set in stone with loose-head prop Tony Woodcock returning after a week resting his chronic foot injury.
Neemia Tialata appears to have been anointed successor to Greg Somerville as the starting tight-head while John Afoa's athleticism will see him employed as an impact player from the bench.
Muliaina is the only player lacking recent game-time, though the coaches clearly believe their most experienced back has amassed enough knowledge over 65 tests to slot straight back into a potentially potent back three. He has played only a provincial game and half a trial match since the Tri-Nations title and Bledisloe Cup were retained in Brisbane on September 13.
Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), R Kearney (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), A Quinlan (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster)
Replacements: J Flannery (Munster), T Buckley (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), S Jennings (Ulster), E Reddan (Wasps), P Wallace (Ulster), K Earls (Munster)
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Isaia Toeava
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
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