AUCKLAND, New Zealand, August 4 -The All Blacks have made sweeping changes for their Tri-Nations Test against Australia in Auckland on Saturday including the introduction of four key forwards and replacing three backs.
There was a “massive challenge” ahead, coach Graham Henry said when he announced his new-look side after the All Blacks and Wallabies, the world’s top two teams, both whipped the under-strength Springboks in the past two weeks.
The All Blacks will spice up their front row with Owen Franks and Keven Mealamu, Brad Thorn comes in at lock and Kieran Read slots in at the back of the scrum.
All four players have been rested in recent weeks after carrying a heavy workload in the Super 15 competition.
In the backs, Piri Weepu will start at scrum half while on the wings Hosea Gear returns from injury to start on the left flank with Sitiveni Sivivatu on the right.
“There is no doubt that the intensity levels will rise for this Test,” said Henry, whose All Blacks crushed South Africa 40-7 last weekend a week after Australia beat them 39-20.
“It’s a hugely important Test and is going to be a massive challenge, but we are looking forward to that.”
At stake in the Test is a psychological edge ahead of next month’s Rugby World Cup, as well as the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby supremacy.
For the All Blacks there is also the memory that in the last Test between the two sides, Australia snapped a 10-game losing streak to win 26-24.
Henry has retained the midfield pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith who will play their 29th Test together, becoming the most experienced midfield partnership in All Blacks history.
Neither of the wings who played and scored two tries each against the Springboks — Cory Jane and Zac Guildford — are required for duty this weekend and starting scrum half Jimmy Cowan has also been left out of the 22-man squad.
Sonny Bill Williams will again start on the bench as will Crusaders scrum half Andy Ellis.
New Zealand (15-1)
Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Samuel Whitelock, Adam Thomson, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Sonny Bill Williams.