New-look All Blacks set to face Wallabies
September 16, 2009
All Blacks lock Tom Donnelly has reason to smile during a training session in Wellington © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has opted to ring the changes for Saturday's Tri-Nations finale against Australia in Wellington.
Henry's side have undergone a major overhaul with the introduction of five new faces and two positional switches in the wake of their 32-29 loss to South Africa in Hamilton on Saturday - their fourth defeat in eight Tests this year.
There are three changes up front, with a major surprise being the omission of lock Isaac Ross, replaced by Otago new cap Tom Donnelly. Prop Neemia Tialata and flanker Adam Thomson both earn recalls, for Owen Franks and Jerome Kaino respectively.
In the backline, Cory Jane comes on to the right wing, pushing Joe Rokocoko to the left in place of the injured Sitiveni Sivivatu. There is another shuffle in the midfield, where Stephen Donald is omitted and Ma'a Nonu moves in one spot to second five-eighth, with Isaia Toeava named at centre.
Despite a raft of changes, Henry refused to be drawn into a blame game following their latest lesson at the hands of the Springboks - who clinched the Tri-Nations crown with last weekend's victory.
"There are no scapegoats from last weekend," Henry told NZPA despite the fact that four of the five dropped players -- Franks, Ross, Kaino and Sitiveni - have missed out on the 22 completely. Stephen Donald has been named amongst the replacements.
In the case of young Canterbury forwards Franks and Ross, Henry said it was simply a case of giving them a break after the most intense couple of months of their careers.
"Owen Franks probably got a shock when he was selected for the Test team. He's played a lot of rugby and he's probably gone over the top a wee bit," Henry said. "He just needs a bit of space and it's the same with Isaac, he's played every test this year and we just feel he needs a wee bit of space for a wee while. It's nothing to do with the lineout. We just think he's played a lot of football, he's probably mentally been stretched, continually every week."
Henry said Donnelly wouldn't inherit the lineout calling duties off Ross. It had been decided No.8 Kieran Read would take that role, even if Ross had been selected. Henry believed Tialata's fitness was better than earlier in the season, when he struggled to play more than half a Test and had a succession of niggly injuries.
"We know they (Australia) have got a big scrum so we've picked Neemia because he's our best scrummager," Henry said. "We're a wee bit concerned about the amount of football he's played in recent times but we think that's the best selection. His percentage body fat has come down, which is a big positive, and I'm sure he's keen to make a point."
Henry was loathe to criticise Kaino, preferring to talk up the excellent progress of his replacement, mop-haired Otago flanker Adam Thomson who he labelled "the star of the Air NZ Cup". As expected, Ma'a Nonu shifts into the No.12 jersey Donald wore last weekend, with Isaia Toeava injected back at centre. Toeava's early-season Tests at centre were ordinary but he shone in the last half-hour at Hamilton.
Henry was disappointed with how Daniel Carter and Donald functioned last time out but said Donald remained a "bloody good footballer". Henry was hardly positive when asked if the Donald-Carter combination could be seen again.
"We haven't done so this time so that's a wee bit of an indication," he said.
Henry accepted Rokocoko had been below his best but believed his form had gradually improved this year and had 59 tests worth of experience in his favour.
"He's been an outstanding footballer at this level in the past and he's doing better this season than he did when he started," Henry said. "He played pretty well for Auckland at provincial level. We're just hoping he finds the right button."
The Wallabies arrived to a low-key welcome at Wellington Airport today and coach Robbie Deans was typically muted when asked about the All Blacks' overhaul.
"It's not something we've given a lot of thought to be honest. They will have made those changes for their own reasons and they will be for good reasons," he said. "They are still an experienced group. It doesn't matter who they wheel out there, they are an experienced group of players."
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Isaia Toeava, Ma'a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Adam Thomson, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Jason Eaton, Rodney So'oialo, Brendon Leonard, Stephen Donald, Hosea Gear