Bledisloe Cup: New Zealand v Australia
Tom Taylor handed Test debut
August 22, 2013
Tom Taylor has the inside run over Colin Slade © Getty Images
New Zealand selectors have sprung a major surprise for the second Bledisloe Cup Test, naming Tom Taylor to debut at fly-half against Australia in the Rugby Championship match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Crusaders utility Taylor will continue a proud family tradition when he takes the playmaker role, having been named ahead of 10-Test five-eighth Colin Slade as one of two starting changes from the team that won the first Test 47-29 in Sydney.
Brodie Retallick, as expected, starts in the second-row in place of the injured Luke Romano, while Jeremy Thrush comes onto the bench alongside Slade among five changes to the replacements. The other new names on the bench are: Charles Piutau, recalled as outside back cover in place of Ryan Crotty; hooker Dane Coles, for Keven Mealamu; and prop Wyatt Crockett, for Ben Franks.
Coles, who had to prove his fitness with Wellington Lions in the ITM Cup last week, and Crockett, who returns earlier than expected from a knee injury, were first-choice front-rowers in the June series against France.
Two veteran forwards will raise milestones, with Tony Woodcock playing his 100th Test and captain Richie McCaw making his 31st appearance against the Wallabies - a record for the number of Tests by one player against one country. But the promotion of Taylor, 24, is the headline selection after the injuries to Aaron Cruden and reserve pivot Beauden Barrett in Sydney. Dan Carter was ruled out with a calf injury earlier last week.
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Slade, the halves partner of All Blacks No.9 Aaron Smith at the Highlanders, was expected to end a two-year Test drought from the opening whistle, but New Zealand coach Steve Hansen favoured Taylor, the son of former All Blacks inside centre Warwick Taylor, who played 24 Tests from 1983 to 1988 and who was a rock in the midfield of the inaugural Rugby World Cup-winning side of 1987. Warwick Taylor's brother, Murray Taylor, also played seven Tests for the All Blacks, at five-eighth, from 1976 to 1980.
Tom Taylor was selected as the All Blacks' playmaker despite having not worn the No.10 for the Crusaders in Super Rugby 2013, playing instead at inside centre, fullback and wing. He played 13 games after missing five early rounds with a knee injury, and enhanced his reputation as an accurate goal kicker.
Taylor had previously been connected with the All Blacks only by two appearances at wider squad camps this year and as an injury cover call-up for the final week of the 2012 tour of Europe, where he didn't play but impressed coach Steve Hansen.
"He is mentally tough and plays the game with a lot of confidence and maturity," Hansen said in a statement. "These factors, along with his assured goal kicking under pressure, has made this an easy selection. We have every faith that he will handle the occasion with aplomb."
All Blacks: Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea; Tom Taylor, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Steven Luatua; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.