All Blacks: Muliaina to join 100 club

Mils Muliaina will become the second All Black to play 100 tests. Photo / Getty Images
Mils Muliaina will become the second All Black to play 100 tests. Photo / Getty Images

Mils Muliaina wondered if he would ever get there after playing a bit-part role of late, but he has been given his chance to play 100 tests for the All Blacks when he was named at fullback to take on Argentina this weekend.

Muliaina will become just the second All Black to reach the milestone after skipper Richie McCaw brought up the feat against France a fortnight ago but there had been doubt he would get to the mark because of the form of Israel Dagg.

Dagg has been excellent over the past two months but is struggling with a haematoma on his thigh and wasn't considered. Coach Graham Henry said he would be available for next week's semifinal if the All Blacks get past Argentina on Sunday.

Also missing is Richard Kahui (hamstring) and his place on the wing has been taken by Sonny Bill Williams. Adam Thomson still hasn't recovered from the ankle injury he picked up against France and Zac Guildford is out with a hamstring strain, although he wasn't likely to be among the matchday 22.

McCaw returns to the starting lineup after missing last week's match against Canada with his ongoing foot injury and, although he's nowhere near 100 per cent, will play the remainder of New Zealand's involvement in the tournament.

He's taking a limited part in training but will play through the pain and have the injury reassessed after the World Cup.

Halfback Piri Weepu, hooker Keven Mealamu and Brad Thorn also return to the starting XV.

The All Blacks won't be taking Argentina lightly, especially after what happened at the quarter-final stage four years ago when they were ousted by France in Cardiff.

They're also mindful of the difficulties they've had with Argentina in the past. Although Argentina have never beaten the All Blacks in 13 attempts they have come close.

The two teams drew 21-21 in Buenos Aires in 1985 and the All Blacks needed a last-minute Scott Robertson try in 2001 to win 24-20. Even their last game in 2006 was a tight encounter with New Zealand winning 25-19.

"If you don't win you are dead so we are pretty determined,'' Henry said. "The approach as far as the game plan is concerned is pretty normal but it's just the pressure that goes with it.

"We have the utmost respect for Argentina. They showed in their pool matches, especially against England and Scotland, just how physical their game is, especially as set-piece and at the breakdown.''

Their game plan will be no secret - lineout drives, big scrum, high kicks and scrambling defence - and Muliaina is bound to get a workout in his 100th test.

It was one he thought might not come before he takes up a contract in Japan but one Henry said he deserved.

"He has been a great servant for New Zealand rugby,'' Henry said. "He's a world-class fullback and a very key member of this side for a very long time.

"It's a very special occasion for him and he deserves the honour.''

While a lot of the spotlight will be on Muliaina, more is bound to be cast on first five-eighths Colin Slade, who has been charged with running the team in the absence of the injured Dan Carter.

"I'm going out there to be me, not DC,'' Slade said. "I will go out there to play my game and lead the team the best I can.

"My role hasn't changed much in the team [since Carter's injury]. I'm not expecting to take any more of a leadership role off the field. My job is to direct the team on the field. Now I know I'm going to start, it actually makes it a little easier to prepare.''

All Black team
1. Tony Woodcock (80)
2. Keven Mealamu (89)
3. Owen Franks (28)
4. Samuel Whitelock (22)
5. Brad Thorn (56)
6. Jerome Kaino (45)
7. Richie McCaw - captain (100)
8. Kieran Read (33)
9. Piri Weepu (53)
10. Colin Slade (9)
11. Sonny Bill Williams (11)
12. Ma'a Nonu (63)
13. Conrad Smith (52)
14. Cory Jane (28)
15. Mils Muliaina (99)

Reserves:

16. Andrew Hore (59)
17. Ben Franks (14)
18. Ali Williams (70)
19. Victor Vito (11)
20. Jimmy Cowan (50)
21. Aaron Cruden (6)
22. Isaia Toeava (35)

- APNZ

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