Japan v New Zealand
Dominic Bird ready to blossom in Tokyo
October 31, 2013
Dominic Bird will be the tallest All Blacks lock in history when he takes the field in Tokyo © Getty Images
Dominic Bird has enjoyed a whirlwind week: last Saturday he helped Canterbury secure their sixth successive ITM Cup Premiership victory, and now he is set to make his All Blacks debut against Japan in Tokyo on Saturday.
Bird and Frank Halai were the two new faces named by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in an inexperienced starting line-up, with two more uncapped players - loose forward Luke Whitelock and prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen - on the replacements bench.
"It's a bit nerve-wracking, the first All Blacks game and getting that All Black jersey is exciting," Bird said as he prepares to become the tallest All Blacks lock in history at 2.06 metres. It's really an honour to come in and get a game straight away. I'm chuffed."
Bird's rugby has been curtailed to just two games for Canterbury since tearing pectoral muscles while playing for the Crusaders earlier this year, but Hansen doesn't feel he is rushing the second-row to partner four-cap All Blacks locking partner Jeremy Thrush.
"We would have picked him in June," Hansen said. "Whilst it seems like he's had a quick rush into the team, he's had to wait and work hard. He had a bit of adversity in June and he's coped with that mentally really well and he's come back, which is pleasing. We're confident he will do a job for us and only get better and better and put some real pressure on the other guys who are performing really well at the moment."
Aside from height, Hansen felt Bird would bring the physicality necessary from a tight forward. "He's an athlete. So not only is he tall, he's co-ordinated. He's got physical attributes we like in the core role so he can be physical. He doesn't mind hitting rucks."
Halai is the latest Test graduate to come from the New Zealand Sevens program, and Hansen felt this year the shy Blues and Counties Manukau winger had come out of his shell. "He's grown his game a heck of a lot," Hansen said of Halai. "He's improved immensely aerially.
"He's a shy guy and he's played shy probably in the past. But he's managing now to play the way he would like to, and the way we would like him to. He's confident on the park and is displaying the skills he's got."
All Blacks: Beauden Barrett; Charles Piutau, Ben Smith, Francis Saili, Frank Halai; Daniel Carter, Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Richie McCaw (captain), Sam Cane, Steven Luatua; Dominic Bird, Jeremy Thrush; Ben Franks Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Andrew Hore, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Luke Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Tom Taylor, Ryan Crotty.
Follow live text commentary of the Test between Japan and New Zealand on Saturday, November 2 from 5.30pm (NZDT), 3.30pm (AEDT) and 4.30am (GMT)