Graham Henry has picked Stephen Donald over Luke McAlister for the All Blacks’ opening Tri-Nations game against the Wallabies.
The New Zealand coach said Donald’s experience proved decisive in selection while McAlister’s lack of game time as a Test 10 counted against him. Donald has recovered from the hamstring injury that had him in doubt for Saturday’s fixture in Auckland.
‘We didn’t know if we were going to have any fit ones [flyhalves] at the end of last week but they’re [both] available to play,’ Henry said. ‘We’ve gone for Steve Donald. He is very experienced in that position.
‘We decided the navigation of the team was the crucial thing and the guy being used to doing that over a long period of time. That is what Steve Donald has done.’
Richie McCaw returns to skipper the side and Rodney So’oialo is a further boost to the All Blacks’ back row. Both players missed the June Tests against France and Italy. Sitiveni Sivivatu is also back on the wing.
‘There are 10 guys in the leadership group and five didn’t play in the last Test match or take any great part in the series just gone so it is good to have that experience back,’ Henry added.
The All Blacks’ coach also said Cory Jane was preferred over Joe Rokocoko because of form.
‘Joe’s struggling with his game, though I think the light’s getting brighter at the end of the tunnel.
‘Cory’s got a fullback’s all-round skills, he’s a high-ball catcher, a kicker, and he’s a good finisher as well.’
New Zealand – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Jason Eaton, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Joe Rokocoko.