Graham Henry has made two changes to his starting XV for the Test against the Springboks in Durban.
Jimmy Cowan, who wasn’t in the 22 last week, replaces Brendon Leonard, who is left out of the squad altogether as Piri Weepu is preferred as the replacement No 9. The other change sees 21-year-old tighthead Owen Franks starting up against Beast Mtawarira, with John Afoa on the bench.
Neemia Tialata started at No 3 last week, but has been ruled out with a sprained knee.
‘Neemia is struggling and can’t train this week,’ Henry told keo.co.za. ‘We could have pushed him out, but when you’re playing the best in the world you can’t do that and have to have the best preparation.’
Henry was full of praise for the young Crusaders prop, who will start his first Test, having been on the bench for the previous three.
‘Owen loves this, he’s really up for the contest,’ said Henry. ‘He’s already learnt a lot and he rates himself, which is important at this level. He is up against a strong man [Mtawarira] and it is a great challenge for him.
‘The bigger the challenge, the more excited he gets. That doesn’t necessarily equate to success, but it does help,’ he continued.
‘Last week he was welcomed by the Boks with some interesting terminology, which I can’t repeat here. He took up the challenge, although admittedly he came on with 35 minutes to go when a bit of the sting of the game was gone .’
Henry said the decision of starting with Cowan ahead of Leonard was a simple one.
‘It was pretty straightforward really. Brendon was probably disappointed with last week’s Test, but he needs more game-time. Unfortunately we played badly while he was on the field, and only got stronger as the game wore on and he didn’t get the same opportunities. But Jimmy will have a good battle on his hands when Brendon gets back to his best,’ he said.
‘All our scrumhalves have their strengths, but Jimmy’s kicking game is a positive. He’s a physical defender around the fringes, he gives us some edge and has been there and done it over the last 18 months. He’s experienced and worked quite a bit with Rodney [So'oialo] at the back of the scrum.’
The All Blacks coach expects a different approach from the Boks with the injury enforced inclusion of Morne Steyn ahead of Ruan Pienaar.
‘Steyn kicks the ball a long way, which is a problem for us. We’ve spoken to the IRB and are trying to get the points for penalties changed from three to one, but haven’t had much luck! In all seriousness, he is one of the best kickers in the world, if not the best right now.
‘With him there, he might fall back into the pocket and kick more, which will be different to Pienaar.’
Henry said the loss of the World No 1 ranking to the Boks wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
‘We had pride in that ranking when we had it, but at the same time we had it during the World Cup, and it didn’t help us there.’
All Blacks — 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 John Afoa, 18 Jason Eaton, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Cory Jane.
By Grant Ball, in Durban