Graham Henry has made four changes to his run-on side for the All Blacks’ Tri-Nations opener against the Springboks in Auckland on Saturday.
The All Blacks head coach has selected Ma’a Nonu, who will make his first international appearance of the season, and Conrad Smith as his centre pair as they replace Benson Stanley and Richard Kahui respectively.
Both Nonu (knee) and Smith (eye) have recovered from injuries. Only Kahui is retained in the match 22 as he features on the bench with Rene Ranger falling out.
Wing Joe Rokocoko gets his starting spot in place of discarded Zac Guildford while there’s only one change to the pack as Owen Franks will wear the No 3 jersey with Neemia Tialata axed.
There are another three changes amongst the reserves as hooker Corey Flynn, prop Ben Franks and flank Liam Messam are drafted into the All Blacks’ match 22.
Henry’s selection can easily be perceived as conservative, especially with a couple of young bucks having proven their aptitude in the Super 14 and June internationals. He, however, stressed that experience would be key against the Springboks.
‘We’ve selected proven test performers,’ said Henry. ‘There are a lot of young guys who are knocking on the door and they’ll get their opportunity in time, just like the guys who are taking the field have had to wait in the wings to get their opportunity.’
Henry was acutely aware of the magnitude of the Test.
‘It’s great isn’t it. It’s great to have these sort of games. I think you need these sort of games. It’s a great measuring stick to see where we’re at,’ he said.
‘We’ve had a pleasing start to the year, the guys have pulled together well, have prepared well, and what we really need now is a defining game and then we’ll know where we’re at. We’re certainly going to get one on Saturday.
‘I think everybody knows the score, they don’t need me to tell them. They gave us a hiding last year, when we were clearly second. The guys understand that very clearly.’
The weekend clash will mark a special milestone at Eden Park as it will be 90 years to the day since the All Blacks’ first match at the ground. The All Blacks and Auckland played to an 11-11 draw in front of 9000 people on 10 July 1920.
All Blacks – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Richard Kahui.