All Blacks: Mathewson ends long wait

By Wynne Gray

Alby Mathewson takes a pass during training. Photo / Getty Images
Alby Mathewson takes a pass during training. Photo / Getty Images

For almost two years, Alby Mathewson has wondered if he will ever play test rugby for the All Blacks.

This Saturday he will, in Christchurch. Coach Graham Henry yesterday confirmed the halfback will be thrown into the second half of the Bledisloe Cup fray.

Piri Weepu will start the test because Jimmy Cowan is sidelined with rib cartilage damage and will battle to recover for the Tri-Nations duel with the Springboks on August 21 in Soweto.

"He is bloody sore at the moment and I think he is touch and go at the moment but knowing Jimmy - he has been with us for quite a while and is a tough bugger - he will be desperate to play," said Henry.

Meanwhile Henry said test rugby had become such a high-paced arena that it had become a job for two halfbacks and Mathewson would get his chance against the Wallabies.

He was picked as a replacement for the All Blacks in 2008 when Andy Ellis was injured, and played a smart game from the bench against Munster.

Since then, nothing.

Cowan, Weepu, Ellis and Brendon Leonard have all been picked for tests with some left-field suggestions Aaron Cruden could also be a backup halfback.

Mathewson was sharp when he transferred to the Blues for the Super 14 but his only reward was a standby role in Melbourne as Weepu waited for the birth of his first child.

But after a 22-test hiatus since his solitary midweek outing in the black jersey, Mathewson will get some time in Christchurch.

"He is very competitive, wants to play, has confidence in his own ability, has a lot of self-belief and played well for the Blues," said Henry.

"He has got most of the bits and pieces I think. He is sharp.

"I think he will get some time. It is a very difficult game for one halfback to play 80 minutes, he is just going to run out of gas."

In the other change midfielder Benson Stanley comes on to the bench instead of Israel Dagg, with Ma'a Nonu, in his 50th test, the designated wing cover if necessary.

The Wallabies have delayed picking their combination until tomorrow but it seems coach Robbie Deans is contemplating several alterations.

Young Reds lock Rob Simmons is being looked at instead of Dean Mumm at lock while the backline is coming in for some scrutiny with centre Rob Horne injured.

Adam Ashley-Cooper is likely to push up from fullback with Kurtley Beale slipping into his role but there could also be another midfield shuffle.

Berrick Barnes was a late inclusion last week in Melbourne and it seems Deans is weighing up whether to pick the more physical Anthony Faingaa.

Christchurch-born Henry said he always felt relaxed in the Garden City even though that contradicted some images which might have been pushed by those who supported another transplanted "local", Deans.

"I have never had a problem and I've been here a lot. My mother lives here and the other two coaches are here so I spend quite a lot of time here.

"I have never had a negative in my time as All Black coach in Christchurch. I'm sure there are a lot of Robbie fans, and I understand that because he has done a marvellous job for the Crusaders and Canterbury over the years and was a great player and had all sorts of records," Henry said.

"I totally understand there will be people who think he should have got the job when I was reappointed and I have no problem with that."

ALL BLACKS

Mils Muliaina
Cory Jane
Conrad Smith
Ma'a Nonu
Joe Rokocoko
Dan Carter
Piri Weepu
Kieran Read
Richie McCaw (c)
Jerome Kaino
Tom Donnelly
Brad Thorn
Owen Franks
Keven Mealamu
Tony Woodcock

Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, Alby Mathewson, Aaron Cruden, Benson Stanley.

Christchurch, 7.35pm Saturday

- NZ Herald

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