WELLINGTON, September 16 – The All Blacks have made five changes to their team to play Australia in their attempt to avoid the Tri-Nations wooden spoon in their rugby Test here Saturday.Coach Graham Henry was expected to make changes after the All Blacks fell to their third straight loss this year against South Africa last week.
But he said Wednesday the blame for the All Blacks losing the Tri-Nations crown was not being laid at the feet of the dropped players.
"There are no scapegoats from last weekend," he said.
The most surprising change was the inclusion of debutant lock Tom Donnelly at the expense of Isaac Ross.
The 27-year-old has been brought in to try to improve New Zealand’s lineouts, which have been shaky all season and were particularly woeful in the first half of last week’s Test.
"Tom’s been in the Junior All Blacks over the last three to four years and he’s just been knocking on the door all the time," assistant coach Steve Hansen said.
Prop Neemia Tialata returns to the front row in place of Owen Franks and Adam Thomson takes over from Jerome Kaino as blindside flanker for the final Tri-Nations Test of the year.
"We know they (Australia) have got a big scrum so we’ve picked Neemia because he’s our best scrummager," Henry said.
Cory Jane comes in to the starting line-up on the right wing, taking over from Joe Rokocoko who moves to the left wing in place of the injured Sitiveni Sivivatu.
There had been speculation that Rokocoko might be jettisoned after a mediocre season, but Henry said the Fijian-born winger had gradually improved during the season and was a seasoned international with 59 Tests behind him.
"He’s been an outstanding footballer at this level in the past and he’s doing better this season than he did when he started," Henry said.
"He played pretty well for Auckland at provincial level. We’re just hoping he finds the right button."
Following the unsuccessful experiment of playing Stephen Donald at inside centre last week, Ma’a Nonu returns in the number 12 jersey and Isaia Toeava takes Nonu’s place at centre.
Australian coach Robbie Deans named an unchanged lineup Tuesday following the Wallabies 21-6 win over the Springboks in Brisbane earlier this month.
New Zealand (15-1)
Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Isaia Toeava, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Adam Thomson, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Jason Eaton, Rodney So’oialo, Brendon Leonard, Stephen Donald, Hosea Gear