Tuitavake handed debut for All Blacks
PA Sport
June 3, 2008

Anthony Tuitavake will make his New Zealand debut on Saturday after being selected on the wing to play in the one-off Test against Ireland in Wellington.

The 25-year-old Blues back is the only one of the six new members of the squad to make the starting line-up, although Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson and Stephen Donald have been named on the bench.

Tuitavake pipped Blues team-mate Rudi Wulf to the right-wing berth but New Zealand backs coach Wayne Smith said there had been little to choose between them.

"They have both been form players in the Super 14 which is a positive,'' he said.

"Anthony has got an edge in experience obviously and has been knocking on the door for a wee while and he's champing at the bit so this is his opportunity.''

All four of the recalled players - prop John Afoa, lock Brad Thorn, loose forward Jerome Kaino and centre Ma'a Nonu - have been handed starting spots, while the coaches have opted for provincial combinations in several key areas.

Crusaders duo Ali Williams and Thorn will lock the scrum, with fellow Super 14 title-winners Andy Ellis and Dan Carter the halfback-pivot pairing and Hurricanes pair Nonu and Conrad Smith combining in midfield.

Coach Graham Henry said the short turnaround between the end of the Super 14 and the Test against the Irish was one of the reasons behind that.

"Obviously there is not a lot of time to bed down,'' he said. "But we also looked at who was fit and available, who was raring to go, and some guys are coming off some injuries and need a bit more time.''

The cry from Henry this week has been ''clear head, full tank'' with the coaching staff keen not to overload their players.

"It's about trying to be simple in our gameplan, (telling the players to) grasp that, relax and play well,'' he continued.

"It's important we don't overload them and we don't over-train them so they've got a full tank when they play.''

With Tony Woodcock injured and Greg Somerville given a rest after his heavy workload with the Crusaders in the past six weeks, that has opened the way for Afoa to return at tighthead prop and Neemia Tialata to start at loosehead, despite forwards coach Steve Hansen admitting the Hurricanes prop's fitness "was not where we'd like him to be''.

"But he's (Tialata) making good progress and he's worked very hard and done a lot of extras,'' said Hansen.

"He is a good international scrummager at loosehead and that's why we've picked him to do that job.''

The All Blacks tight five will be up against a wealth of experience on Saturday. Their Irish opposites - who were all part of Munster's Heineken Cup-winning side - have a total of 258 caps between them.

But Hansen said his players would not be overawed: "We have got a lack of experience when it comes to Test caps but these guys have been around for a while themselves.

"We've just got to front up and do the job.''

Henry expects the Irish to be buoyed by Munster and Leinster's recent success.

"They are a very experienced rugby team and have been around for along time,'' he said.

"There is a lot of caps and some new guys who've come in who look like they can play.

"I think it's going to be a huge Test match.

"The Irish always play with a huge amount of passion, they'll have a lot of confidence coming into the Test match, they know that we are rebuilding and Munster have come off a European Cup win and that will add to the confidence of the group.''

New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Anthony Tuitavake, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Dan Carter, Andy Ellis; Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, John Afoa, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (c), Jerome Kaino.

Reserves: Keven Mealamu, John Schwalger, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Jimmy Cowan, Stephen Donald, Leon MacDonald.

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