The All Blacks search for Tana Umaga’s successor now shifts to Mils Muliaina, considered by many to be the game’s best fullback.
With Ma’a Nonu not available because of a broken thumb, the All Black selectors named their first choice fullback at outside centre for the Vodacom Tri Nations opener against the Wallabies in Christchurch.
Richie McCaw captains his country for the first time at home in a team showing 10 changes from the one that beat the Pumas in Buenos Aires. The team also shows six changes from the one that beat Ireland in Auckland.
It is without doubt the strongest New Zealand can put on the park and the injury to Nonu means the All Black selectors get to play Leon Macdonald and Muliaina.
The Crusaders and Hurricanes players supply nine players to the starting XV.
“We’ve got two very capable players in Leon MacDonald and Mils Muliaina, we wanted to find a place for both of them in the team and they both couldn’t play fullback. So this was a natural thing to do which was always in the forefront of our minds through the early part of the season,” Henry told the media. “It’s just the balance of the side,” he added. “It was good to have both of them in there, and Mils is more suited to centre than Leon is. We’ve got total confidence in his ability to play there. It’s a pretty experienced rugby team isn’t it … that backline has played a lot of test matches, and quite a few together, though maybe not in those positions. They’re mature, they’ve experienced top-line rugby and they’ll be able to handle Saturday.”
Eaton, at lock, has edged out Ali Williams. Rico Gear starts ahead of Doug Howlett and Tony Woodcock is instead of Greg Somerville. Anton Oliver misses out as a sub and the second choice hooker responsibility goes to Andrew Hore.
All Blacks: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Mils Muliaina, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher; 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock. Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Greg Somerville, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Isaia Toeava