Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Thrush to start, Jane returns

Lock has done enough to line up with other new faces in season's last home test

Jeremy Thrush of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Jeremy Thrush of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

The smouldering All Black career of Jeremy Thrush gets a Bledisloe Cup chance this weekend which doubles as an end of year tour audition.

Thrush was one of the new faces in the national squad selection this season and has been eased into combat with three appearances from the bench.

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The lock is one of three new faces in the starting group for the last domestic test on Saturday against the Wallabies in Dunedin, with Keven Mealamu picked at hooker, the repaired Cory Jane on the right wing while Ben Smith shifts from the wing into centre for the unavailable Conrad Smith.

A number of scenarios need to be sorted before the 36-strong group to travel to Japan and Europe is announced on Sunday and one involves the locking contenders.

The All Black selectors have been encouraged by Thrush's progress since his promotion at the start of the June internationals. At times the 28-year-old was a little uneasy about his role in the squad but he settled during the Rugby Championship.

He made his debut from the bench against France and was used twice as a sub against Argentina. This start against the Wallabies, in partnership with senior lock Sam Whitelock, is a significant upgrade.

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While touring doubts remain about Luke Romano after his recovery from a groin injury and Dominic Bird's late ITM return from injury, Thrush has a chance to nail his selection.

His initial promotion came with some fortune because Ali Williams retired, Bird damaged a chest muscle and others who had been All Blacks, Tom Donnelly and Anthony Boric, had fallen off the pace.

All Black coach Steve Hansen said this test was a huge match for his side as they needed to back up their last great performance with another.

"This is a challenge this team needs and will help define the progress we are making. If we don't attempt to improve our performance from our last outing, we are vulnerable to being overtaken," he said.

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Jane has been picked on the right wing after two provincial matches as the selectors look to get as much rugby as they can into his frame before the tour.

Jane played 43 tests before he wrecked his knee in pre-season training for the Hurricanes but the 30-year-old has made a strong recovery to join another Canes man, Julian Savea, on the wing.

For some time Ben Smith has been signposted as the successor at centre to Conrad Smith. Now the 75 test Smith senior has decided to take a spell from rugby, his namesake will start at centre on his home ground in Dunedin.

Ben Smith has been in remarkable touch this season as he helped himself to a lengthy run on the right wing in Jane's absence. After 21 tests he shifts into centre, a position in which he played steadily last year when he was asked to begin the test against Scotland on the end of year tour.

Another lightly used All Black, Mealamu, dons the famous jersey for his first start this year in an all Blues front row. He has played 107 tests and hopes to prolong his career for a while yet but has been troubled by niggling calf injuries.

All Blacks side (tests in brackets)
1. Tony Woodcock (104), 2. Keven Mealamu (108), 3. Charlie Faumuina (13), 4. Jeremy Thrush (3), 5. Samuel Whitelock (47), 6. Liam Messam (26), 7. Richie McCaw - captain (120), 8. Kieran Read (57), 9. Aaron Smith (21), 10. Aaron Cruden (25), 11. Julian Savea (17), 12. Ma'a Nonu (84), 13. Ben Smith (21), 14. Cory Jane (43), 15. Israel Dagg (33).

Reserves: 16. Dane Coles (10), 17. Wyatt Crockett (19), 18. Ben Franks (28), 19. Brodie Retallick (20), 20. Sam Cane (12), 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (10), 22. Beauden Barrett (13), 23. Tom Taylor (1)

- NZ Herald

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