All Blacks: New faces for fresh challenge?

By Daniel Gilhooly

Andrew Hore's wayward throwing against Australia could see Keven Mealamu promoted to the starting side. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Hore's wayward throwing against Australia could see Keven Mealamu promoted to the starting side. Photo / Getty Images

CENTURION - The physical challenge of the Springboks and the arid Bloemfontein venue are a world apart from last weekend. So does All Blacks rugby coach Graham Henry make changes to suit?

While the 22-16 defeat of an error-prone Australia has been hailed as a stride in the right direction, there were still creaks throughout the Eden Park performance.

Henry must decide if the second Tri-Nations test on Sunday morning (NZ time) is the right time for more alterations or to stick with a side who staunchly turned around a 10-0 deficit.

Also, what about those reserves? The continual impact of halfback Piri Weepu and Keven Mealamu must eventually force a starting shot while Kieran Read's explosive final quarter won't have gone unnoticed.

Whether that's enough for Read to usurp veteran Rodney So'oialo in the early stages of his return to test rugby seems unlikely.

However, the wayward lineout work of hooker Andrew Hore may give human dynamo Mealamu an opening, although the veteran Auckland rake was playing his cards tight.

"For me, it's just making sure I can make an impact doing either job. It's always team first," he said.

"I'd love to start but my job's off the bench and I'm happy doing that.

"In those dying minutes it can be just as difficult. Sometimes it can be just as much pressure as there is starting the game."

Halfback is the trickiest position to predict, with Jimmy Cowan a good chance to keep his starting spot although Henry may plump for the stealth of Brendon Leonard or even contradict his stance that Weepu's best role is off the bench.

Brad Thorn and Isaac Ross will start a fifth consecutive test together as locks and the props should be retained although the enthusiasm of blooming tighthead Owen Franks will be starting to worry Neemia Tialata.

Stephen Donald was a mixed bag again at first five-eighth. But he was better than before which should be good enough to keep Luke McAlister benched.

Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are the midfield again and the only back three switch could be on Cory Jane's right wing.

The Wellingtonian performed the kicking, chasing and retrieving he was picked for to a tee but any switch to a more expansive game plan this week may involve the return of Joe Rokocoko.

The Auckland veteran has operated below peak form this season but has thrived in South Africa in the past.

His nine tries against the Springboks is just one behind the 10 of former All Blacks fullback Christian Cullen, which is a record for any player against any nation in the history of test rugby.

Likewise, Rokocoko's 26 tries outside New Zealand is one short of the world record for offshore tries shared by former teammate Doug Howlett and Australian great David Campese.

Nonu hoped a move away from the cold, evening tests in New Zealand would lift the All Blacks' attacking game. They have scored just seven tries in their first four tests, their dullest start since 1994.

"It's always a bonus to play in the day, especially in South Africa," Nonu said.

"Playing in New Zealand, it's wet and pretty cold so you don't see a lot of flash rugby where the ball goes wide.

"Hopefully on the weekend you'll see a lot of running football.

"There's a bit of a strategy group that pitches in with the coaches and comes up with a game plan that we can work around."

Possible team: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Jason Eaton, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Luke McAlister, Joe Rokocoko

- NZPA

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