Guildford to make All Blacks debut
November 4, 2009
Zac Guilford starts for the All Blacks in Cardiff © Getty Images
Hawke's Bay winger Zac Guildford will make his Test debut as one of six changes in the New Zealand line-up to face Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Fly-half Dan Carter has proved his fitness to start and lock Jason Eaton makes his first start for the All Blacks since August 2006, replacing Tom Donnelly.
The 20-year-old Guildford will wear the No.11 jersey vacated by Sitiveni Sivivatu, who is serving out a one-match ban for a dangerous tackle during the All Blacks' 32-19 win over the Wallabies in Tokyo last weekend. The other backline change sees scrum-half Brendon Leonard replace Jimmy Cowan.
Wyatt Crockett also benefits from a ban, stepping in to the void left in the front-row by Tony Woodock's one match ban for his part in a fight at the end of the Tokyo showdown.
In the back-row, Jerome Kaino replaces Adam Thomson on the blindside and Kieran Read reclaims the No.8 jersey from Rodney So'oialo, who is omitted from the 22. On the bench, Otago fullback Ben Smith was named ahead of the injured Tamati Ellison for a potential Test debut, while prop Owen Franks is in for John Afoa.
The All Blacks coaching staff reserved special praise for Guildford, who has slotted in to the setup with ease. "He's trained like a guy who's been there forever," assistant coach Steve Hansen said.
Coach Graham Henry likened him to legendary wing John Kirwan, who made his debut as a 19-year-old in 1984 and went on to score 35 tries in a 63-Test career, and had some words of advice for the winger.
"He just said he [Kirwan] didn't play his greatest rugby in his first couple of years and that was because he was overawed being in the black jersey," Guildford revealed. "He just said to play your natural game when you get out there and do your best."
Guildford will be lining up this weekend against a familiar opponent in British and Irish Lions speedster Leigh Halfpenny. "I've marked him before in the Under-20 World Cup," Guildford told Radio Sport. "He is a good player. They have got a pretty good all-round side.
On the other wing will be 2008 International Rugby Board player of the year Shane Williams. "They are not big wingers but they are nippy. They will take their chances and we need to be on our toes and not give them too much space," Guildford added.
Saturday's match comes towards the end of a turbulent year for the Crusaders-bound wing whose father died in the stands in Tokyo while watching his son help the New Zealand Under-20 side win their World Cup in June.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said the 20-year-old was "pretty excited" by the prospect of his first Test cap. Henry added, "He's had his challenges during the year. He's met them well. He's used them as motivation and he's achieved goals earlier than he'd expected I'd imagine."
New Zealand: M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, Z Guildford; D Carter, B Leonard; W Crockett, A Hore, N Tialata, B Thorn, J Eaton, J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read
Replacements: C Flynn, O Franks, T Donnelly, A Thomson, J Cowan, S Donald, B Smith