WELLINGTON, New Zealand, July 28 – Versatile forward Adam Thomson has been awarded the backrow slot for the All Blacks Tri-Nations Test against South Africa on Saturday as the selectors search for possible World Cup combinations.
There are several changes to the run-on side that started against Fiji last week with Sonny Bill Williams brought into the reserves raising the possibility of a Williams-Ma’a Nonu partnership late in the game.
Thomson, who has played as both open and blindside flanker in his 18 Tests, replaces Liam Messam in the backrow in a trial to be the back-up for Kieran Read who is being rested after a lengthy Super 15 season with the Crusaders.
Captain Richie McCaw, an openside flank specialist, has also trained in the backrow slot this week and may well end the game there as he did in the shake-down Test against Fiji last week which the All Blacks won 60-14.
The other changes to the All Blacks forwards include the return of Sam Whitelock to partner Ali Williams in the second row and Jerome Kaino is back as the blindside flanker.
In the backline, Dan Carter will start in his usual number 10 slot, Cory Jane replaces Sitiveni Sivivatu on the wing with Zac Guildford moving from the right to left wing.
“We have had a good build-up this week and have picked a team we know that will be up for that challenge,” coach Graham Henry said, adding the Springboks would obviously be hurting after their loss to Australia.
“They are a proud rugby nation and won’t want a repeat performance so we will have to be ready for that challenge.”
Assistant All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, meanwhile, defended South Africa’s decision to leave a core group of 21 players at home rather than play them on the Australasian leg of the Tri-Nations championship.
“I think South Africa has done what is right for their team,” he said.
“The most important tournament of the year is the rugby World Cup and every rugby nation is looking at that as the case.
“If we won the World Cup and didn’t win the Tri-Nations do you think too many people would be complaining about the Tri-Nations? I can’t see too many and it’d be the same in South Africa, the same in Australia.”
The All Blacks and Springboks have played each other 81 times, with the All Blacks winning 45, South Africa 33 and three matches drawn.
New Zealand (15-1)
Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Adam Thomson, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Jarrad Hoeata, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Sonny Bill Williams.