Lauaki challenged to make presence felt
NZPA
June 10, 2008

It does not quite equate to fighting fire with fire but the All Blacks have enlisted damaging loose forward Sione Lauaki to engage an English pack onslaught led by one of rugby's most hyped front rowers.

Lauaki makes his return to the New Zealand side for the first time since the World Cup pool match romp over Romania when the All Blacks open their two-test series with an England side spearheaded by Andy Sheridan at Eden Park on Saturday night.

The bullocking Waikato and Chiefs No.8 is the only change to the All Blacks reserves bench from the side that quelled Ireland 21-11 in Wellington last weekend.

Jerome Kaino, who made a solid return from a two-year exile against the Irish in unhelpful conditions, retains his place at the back of the scrum leaving Lauaki to be injected off the bench and possibly slot in on the blindside.

Lauaki's greater physical presence sees him replace the newly capped Adam Thomson for what is expected to be a torrid encounter with the World Cup runners-up.

The 27-year-old has recovered from a hamstring strain sustained late in the Chiefs Super 14 season, a campaign Lauaki gradually warmed to after returning from a summer break in less than peak condition.

Despite concerns over his fitness, the 119kg battering ram was a fixture in the Chiefs back row and caused sufficient damage to warrant inclusion in the squad for the June tests and Tri-Nations.

"He's a game breaker and his attitude last week was right on the button," said head coach Graham Henry.

Lauaki has been sought after by the selection panel since his debut in 2005 although the following season was disrupted by a chest injury.

He missed last year's Tri-Nations and was considered something of a bolter for the World Cup squad -- a campaign that personally went sour a week before New Zealand exited.

Lauaki played a role in the four pool matches but was suspended for a high tackle in the final game against Romania, ruling him out of the quarterfinal although the ban was belatedly overturned.

Now he is poised for a 12th cap after an eight month delay.

"I think he's due. He's played some outstanding rugby for the Chiefs, especially in the big games," Henry said citing Lauaki's dominant role in the Chiefs' back-to-back victories over the Crusaders.

"We're hoping we can get those high performances, like in the Crusaders game last year -- we're hoping we can get that through into test match rugby."

Meanwhile, veteran Crusader Greg Somerville is the only change to the starting line-up, the 57-test prop has been introduced to combat Sheridan.

The 1.93-metre loosehead is renowned for instigating demolition jobs on the Wallabies scrums in 2005 and 2007 and is regarded as one of the premier scrummagers in the northern hemisphere.

On his last visit to New Zealand three years ago Sheridan only made the British and Irish Lions midweek team but since then his reputation has grown.

"When he plays well and scrums well, England play well," All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen admitted.

"For us to play well we're going to have to attack Sheridan and make sure that we dominate their scrum.

"He's a very good scrummager but we've got a fairly grisly old bloke (Somerville) that's been around a long time."

Sheridan, 28, is the only English player in the starting line-up that played the World Cup final against South Africa in Paris last October -- highlighting the massive turnover since Brian Ashton was axed after the Six Nations.

Despite the personnel changes there are only three uncapped players in the tourists' 22 for Saturday -- starting wing Topsy Ojo plus halfback Danny Care and hooker David Paice on the bench.

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