Plenty to prove for World Cup outsiders
June 14, 2007

Dunedin's Carisbrook resembles something of a last chance saloon for a clutch of World Cup rugby hopefuls on Saturday when the Junior All Blacks or Australia A effectively claim the Pacific Nations Cup.

While few Junior All Blacks can realistically expect to push themselves into New Zealand's squad for France -- barring injury -- several Australian A players have a chance to press their claims before the Wallabies take on South Africa in the Tri-Nations opener in Cape Town on Sunday.

Queensland loose forward Hugh McMenamin, Western Force fullback Cameron Shepherd and New South Wales five-eighth Sam Norton-Knight have arguably the most to prove in a contest which amounts to their only opportunity to face test quality opposition before the Australian squad for France are named.

Prop Rodney Blake, on the comeback trail from an ankle injury, makes his first post-surgery appearance knowing a strong showing could see him re-enter coach John Connolly's front row permutations -- an area of weakness for the Wallabies.

Of the Junior All Blacks, Waikato and Chiefs battering ram Sione Lauaki presumably has the best chance of muscling into calculations after his long-awaited return from surgery to both knees.

He was named automatically by co-coaches Ian Foster and Colin Cooper today, at the back of the scrum in place of former All Blacks and Crusaders No 8 Mose Tuaili'i, another on the fringe of selection.

Ma'a Nonu, who has flitted between the Juniors and All Blacks this season, also has an opportunity to state his worth as a utility backline option after being used sparingly against the French.

Nonu and Lauaki are among six changes to the starting 15 who preserved the Juniors' unblemished record with a 39-13 victory against Tonga last weekend.

Lock Hoani MacDonald returns from injury to a second row depleted by Greg Rawlinson and Ross Filipo's promotion to the All Blacks to cover an injury crisis.

Former All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino is selected on the blindside ahead of Kieran Read while in the backline Andrew Ellis and Stephen Donald take over from Jimmy Cowan and Stephen Brett as the inside backs combination.

While the door is essentially closed for the bulk of the Juniors in terms of the World Cup, Foster said they were excited to test themselves against tough opposition after three straightforward wins in the Pacific islands.

"Australia A is tracking well and they are also unbeaten," Foster said.

"They've been bolstered by the inclusion of six Wallabies and we also have some players coming back from injury.

"The challenge for both teams is to see which side will settle best with the new combinations."

Australia A coach Laurie Fisher also rang the changes after last weekend's romp over Japan, making nine alterations when the half dozen Wallabies squad members were not required for test duty.

The Junior All Blacks lead the points table on the maximum 15 points after three rounds, one ahead of Australia A.

They play Japan and Fiji respectively next weekend, meaning the winners in Dunedin are almost assured of taking the title.

The Junior All Blacks team named today to play Australia A in a Pacific Nations Cup rugby match at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Saturday:-

Cory Jane, Scott Hamilton, Ma'a Nonu, Sam Tuitupou, Anthony Tuitavake, Stephen Donald, Andrew Ellis, Sione Lauaki, Marty Holah (captain), Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Hoani MacDonald, John Afoa, Derren Witcombe, Clarke Dermody.

Reserves: Corey Flynn, Campbell Johnstone, Mose Tuiali'i, Daniel Braid, Jimmy Cowan, Stephen Brett, Tane Tu'ipulotu.

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