AUCKLAND, New Zealand, September 22 – All Blacks coach Graham Henry on Thursday unveiled his starting lineup for Saturday’s Eden Park showdown with France, while minnows Namibia prepared to face up to the mighty Springboks.
Back into the New Zealand team from injuries come superstars Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, while Israel Dagg gets the nod at full-back in preference to Mils Muliaina who is stuck on 98 caps.
McCaw in contrast will win his 100th cap in the France game becoming the first All Black to do so.
Henry said he was paying no attention to suggestions that France have not selected their best team for Saturday’s game as a loss would see them pitched into the easier half of the quarter-final draw.
“History shows the challenge. There have been a lot of World Cup games against France which have been of great interest to New Zealanders and French people and some of them have finished with difficult situations to handle,” Henry said.
“This French side will be very difficult to beat. They are a big side, very physical, got a very mature pack and they have some outstanding talented backs, so they will be very difficult.”
In other team selections England coach Martin Johnson recalled Mike Tindall at centre for the match against Romania and then circled the wagons around his player when he was questioned at a press conference about the Queenstown bar episode.
That eruped when Tindall, who recently married Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, and some other England players were caught on security cameras in a bar celebrating the win over Argentina in their opening World Cup match.
At one stage in the video, the England centre is seen with his arms around an unidentified blonde woman who also kisses him on the top of the head.
Tindall was not selected for England’s subsequent 41-10 win over Georgia, and Thursday’s team press conference in Dunedin was his first public appearance since the bar outing.
The player remained tight-lipped about the affair, and when a television reporter tried to get a response from Johnson about the fall-out from the drinking session, the annoyed 2003 World Cup-winning captain cut him off by saying: “We’ve put it to bed, it’s not an issue.”
Scotland coach Andy Robinson announced his team to play Argentina, in a clash expected to decide the second qualifying spot from Pool B and sprung a couple of surprises in so doing.
Ruaridh Jackson will start at fly-half in place of the more experienced Dan Parks, Chris Paterson takes over from Rory Lamont at full-back and there was no place at all for skipper Alastair Kellock.
“We want to get out there and have a go at Argentina. Who is our best passing 10? I think that’s Ruaridh,” said coach Andy Robinson explaining his choice for fly-half.
The only game on the schedule for Thursday evening saw South Africa continue the defence of their title with a game against neighbours Namibia at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium.
The Springboks have beaten both Wales and Fiji and appear to be running into top form at just the right time as they did so successfully in France four years ago.
No one is giving the 19th-ranked Namibians a hope, but Springboks forwards coach Gary Gold said pride was at stake for the Welwitschias as it shapes as their ‘final.’