All Blacks: Hansen names new midfield combo

By Gregor Paul in Edinburgh

Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith make up a new midfield combination to face Scotland. Photo / Getty Images/NZ Herald
Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith make up a new midfield combination to face Scotland. Photo / Getty Images/NZ Herald

A new midfield combination, the return of a slimmed down Piri Weepu and the introduction of Adam Thomson are the major points of interest in the All Black side selected to play Scotland.

There are also places on the bench for new caps Dane Coles and Tawera Kerr-Barlow and a recall for Wyatt Crockett.

As promised, All Black coach Steve Hansen has made wholesale changes from the last encounter in Brisbane. The coach wants everyone in his 32-man squad to play some part in the first two tests of this tour but there was never any intention to split into an 'A' team and a 'B' team.

Despite making nine personnel changes from the 18-all draw in Brisbane, the All Black side to face Scotland still carries close to 800 test caps, with most units boasting at least one highly experienced operator.

The exception is the midfield where Tamati Ellison at second-five has been paired with Ben Smith at centre.

The Highlanders duo were originally selected back in June as utility backs but as the season has progressed the thinking has evolved. While both continue to impress with their versatility, the coaching panel see them as a potential back-up midfield combination to the incumbent pairing of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

"We wanted to form a combination and we think there is a bit of combination there anyway from the Highlanders," said Hansen on why the decision was made to pair Smith and Ellison rather than split Nonu and Smith.

"The combination of Conrad and Ma'a is going well and we need to keep working on that as well. Looking to the future we think the Ma'a/Conrad combination is probably going to play later in the series and this [Smith and Ellison] is a combination that is going to spend a lot of time together I should think at the Highlanders and maybe future All Black teams."

Weepu, having responded to management requests to drop more weight and up his fitness, earns his second start of 2012. "We gave him some pretty strong, clear guidelines before we picked the team and he has met those: hence why we are seeing a sharper, fitter Piri," said Hansen.

The other message given to Weepu is that the All Blacks want to continue with the high octane game they have been playing with Aaron Smith at halfback.. The introduction of the new rule giving teams a maximum of only five seconds to clear the ball from the base of rucks is causing little concern: the All Blacks fancy they are a two-second team anyway in that regard and the pressure will be on Weepu to make sure they are.

The pressure is also on Thomson to deliver a performance that keeps him in the frame to earn a starting spot later in the tour with Victor Vito, shifted to No 8 charged with the same task.

"It's a big game for him [Vito] and Adam Thomson as both of them have been given an opportunity to come out and really stamp themselves in this contest," said Hansen.

All Black team to play Scotland on Monday (NZT):
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Reserves: Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ma'a Nonu.

- Herald on Sunday

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