All Blacks opt for experience
July 6, 2010
Veteran centre Ma'a Nonu returns to the All Blacks' line-up for the Eden Park clash © Getty Images
New Zealand will field their most experienced side ever for Saturday's Tri-Nations opener agaist South Africa at Eden Park on Saturday.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry and assistants Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith have opted for experience with their selection boasting 671 appearances - eclipsing the 649 caps that took to the field for the 2007 Rugby World Cup match against Italy in Marseille.
The team shows four changes from that which completed a series victory over Wales last month with the recall of centre Ma'a Nonu perhaps the most significant change in personnel with the Hurricanes star getting the nod ahead of Benson Stanley. Nonu will partner Conrad Smith in midfield with Richard Kahui making way after his rival recovered from an eye injury. Joe Rokocoko will start on the left wing for the dropped Zac Guildford while Owen Franks is restored at tight-head prop in place of Neemia Tialata.
The Eden Park match will be a major challenge for 46-Test veteran Nonu, who has played just 70 minutes of club rugby since injuring his knee in the Hurricanes' final Super 14 match of the season against the Waratahs in Sydney on May 14.
There are also four changes on the New Zealand bench. Hooker Corey Flynn comes in for Aled de Malmanche, prop Ben Franks for his older brother Owen, Liam Messam for the dropped Adam Thomson and Kahui for outside back cover Rene Ranger.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said his side were relishing the scale of Saturday's challenge. "The Springboks are the defending Tri-Nations champions and, like us, will be keen to kick off their campaign on a winning note," he said. "However, our squad has prepared well and the players are excited by the first up challenge this weekend. It's going to be a massive kick off to the competition."
"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."
Springboks coach Peter de Villiers has been able to pick what he described as his best side after forwards Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw were declared fit to play.
Rossouw has been included among the reserves, as has giant Stormers lock Andries Bekker, with the pair adding to South Africa's lineout options. De Villiers said Rossouw and Bekker had earned their spots through their Super 14 performances, which he described as outstanding.
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)
South Africa: Z Kirchner (Bulls); J de Villiers (Western Province), J Fourie (Stormers), W Olivier (Bulls), B Habana (Stormers); M Steyn (Bulls), R Januarie (Stormers); G Steenkamp (Bulls), J Smit (Sharks, capt), J du Plessis (Sharks), B Botha (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), F Louw (Stormers), P Spies (Bulls)
Replacements: C Ralepelle (Bulls), BJ Botha (Ulster), A Bekker (Stormers), D Rossouw (Bulls), R Pienaar (Sharks), B James (Bath), G Aplon (Stormers)
Referee: A. Lewis (Ire)
Assistant referees: A. Rolland (Fra), S. Dickinson (Aus)