Kiwis 16
England 14

It might not be a changing of the guard, but we witnessed an unusual sight for the Kiwis last night. Isaac Luke didn't start the match and, instead, coach Stephen Kearney chose to use Thomas Leuluai in the dummy-half role from the kickoff.

Remember, Luke was judged the world's best hooker last year, even ahead of Australia's Cameron Smith, and has had a great season for Souths.

The Rabbitohs hooker has often been seen as the Kiwis MIP - Most Irreplacable Player - and there was significant consternation when he was ruled out of the Brisbane clash with Australia. But Leuluai had a fine match in that 30-12 win and, after being rested for the Samoa match, returned last night.


It may not be a long-term measure but made sense yesterday. Kearney needed Leuluai's defensive prowess - there aren't many better one-on-one defenders than the 33-test veteran - from the start of the match against England's monster pack.

He was busy early, as England dominated from the start and had all the momentum. Leuluai had to leave the field earlier than planned with a head knock, but was sent on again after Luke had a short spell.

Apart from his defensive prowess, Leuluai was also impressive on attack. His service was crisp and smart and he made some effective runs from dummy-half. It was a reminder of why he was so valued in the No 9 jersey at Wigan for so many years, and a promise of what might be possible for the Warriors next year.

One episode in the second half showed his value. He made a tremendous stop on a rampaging George Burgess in the middle of the field, then a few tackles later was across to make a crucial try-saving tackle near the corner flag.

Leuluai, who was on the field for both the 2008 World Cup final and the 2010 Four Nations victory, is also the ultimate competitor. At one point in the second half he missed a tackle as England made a long-range raid, but picked himself up and made the final hit metres before the line.

Luke came into his own in the latter stages of the half, before Leuluai returned for the final 10 minutes. Kearney kept both his hookers on the field for the final stages and has an enviable - and unexpected - headache for the final in Wellington next week.