Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Seven changes to face Wallabies

Piri Weepu will start against Australia at halfback. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu will start against Australia at halfback. Photo / Getty Images

All Black wing Sitiveni Sivivatu has made a remarkable recovery from a knee problem to slot into the All Black side to meet the Wallabies in their Bledisloe Cup clash on Saturday.

Sivivatu limped out of training after a few minutes earlier in the week but has been chosen on an unfamiliar right flank where he will be asked to mark the hot stepping Digby Ioane.

It should be some duel if Sivivatu recaptures some of the sizzle, adventure and workrate he showed in 50 minutes when he was a surprise choice for the match against Fiji at Carisbrook.

The All Blacks have made seven changes from their opening Tri-Nations combination which smacked the Springboks 40-7 at the Cake Tin.

Sivivatu and left wing Hosea Gear are joined in the backs by Piri Weepu while Crusader forwards Kieran Read, Brad Thorn and Owen Franks are new picks alongside Blues skipper Keven Mealamu.

"Introducing these players has not been a problem," assistant coach Steve Hansen said.

"They have been with us for the last few weeks, they have done their homework, they have been at training."

Those changes have increased the side's total test caps by 110 to 766 with the Wallabies putting out a likely side with 390 caps between them.

The All Black changes, except for Sivivatu, were expected because the senior forwards had been on light duties to recharge after the Super 15, Weepu needs to begin a match and Gear and Sivivatu are being evaluated after injury.

Hansen accepted the Wallabies would like to play an up tempo game and that would test the lungs of some of those returning. "But we had to do what was right for the future of the players so they were in nick for the World Cup," he said.

Once the Eden Park test is completed and players have undergone medical tests, the selectors would trim their squad down to the 26 players permitted to travel for the August 20 test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth and the return test with the Wallabies in Brisbane a week later.

"Some top players who are due for a breather will be left behind," said Hansen.

Halfback Andy Ellis has not played yet and has been picked on the bench this week while the rest of the extended 34-strong squad, have either had some time against Fiji and the Springboks or are not fully recovered from their injuries to be fit for test rugby.

Utility fullback-wings Israel Dagg and Isaia Toeava, midfielder Richard Kahui and prop Tony Woodcock make up that group. Woodcock and Toeava have played some ITM Cup rugby and Dagg is expected to play some club rugby this weekend.

Meanwhile, team doctor Deb Robinson said prop John Afoa saw a specialist yesterday to further assess the cheekbone he fractured in last week's test against the Boks.

He had made good progress. However, the swelling in his face has not gone down completely so he will be reviewed again early next week.

"At this stage, he doesn't require surgery, he will be allowed to resume non-contact training when he is comfortable and a date on when he can return to play is yet to be confirmed."

Earlier Hansen suggested Afoa's return to rugby might be anything from two to six weeks.

All Black team:
1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Keven Mealamu
3. Owen Franks
4. Brad Thorn
5. Ali Williams
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Richie McCaw - captain
8. Kieran Read
9. Piri Weepu
10. Daniel Carter
11. Hosea Gear
12. Ma'a Nonu
13. Conrad Smith
14. Sitiveni Sivivatu
15. Mils Muliaina

Reserves:

16. Andrew Hore
17. Ben Franks
18. Samuel Whitelock
19. Adam Thomson
20. Andy Ellis
21. Colin Slade
22. Sonny Bill Williams

- NZ Herald

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