Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Palu returns to test arena

Recovered Wallabies No 8 faces stern test as All Blacks seek record.

Wycliff Palu comes in for the injured Radike Samo. Photo / NZPA
Wycliff Palu comes in for the injured Radike Samo. Photo / NZPA

At his best, Wycliff Palu is a punishing athlete and damaging Wallaby defender.

His problem is that he has been on the receiving end of illness and injury for much of the last few seasons.

However, the No 8 has convinced the fitness staff and coach Robbie Deans he is ready for test rugby once more and will face the All Blacks on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

The 30-year-old Palu will be measured against one of the best if not the pre-eminent No 8 in world rugby when Kieran Read arrives in his new AIG-sponsored kit.

Richie McCaw and Read are at the core of the All Blacks craft, the leader and his deputy displaying standards their teammates strive to emulate.

While they have been rampaging around the globe as part of the side's 16-test winning streak, Palu has been in and out of rehab because of a nerve problem in his shoulder suffered after the June series against Wales.

Palu replaces the damaged Radike Samo and another big loose forward Scott Higginbotham comes into the team on the blindside, pushing Sitaleki Timani into lock in place of Kane Douglas.

In the other changes Benn Robinson is picked at loosehead prop ahead of James Slipper while utility Adam Ashley-Cooper has recovered from concussion and fills in for the injured Digby Ioane.

Ioane's absence means Mike Harris retains his fullback and goalkicking roles for the third meeting this season between the teams. The All Blacks won the first duel 27-19 in Sydney and then shut out the Wallabies 22-0 in the return test a week later to retain the Bledisloe Cup.

Wing Drew Mitchell last played in that loss before undergoing ankle surgery but he, like Palu, has made a swifter than expected recovery to be on the bench for the weekend.

Wallaby coach Deans said Palu was "champing at the bit" to get back into test rugby after several seasons filled with injury.

"Cliffy has spent a long time on the sideline but he was an important part of the group in June," Deans said. "It's been frustrating for him waiting with a nerve-based problem and you have to be patient with that."

The All Blacks have been in camp this week in Christchurch and will reveal their team tomorrow.



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