Key All Blacks to sit out South Africa clash
August 12, 2011
The likes of Conrad Smith will miss out on the tour to South Africa © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has opted to rest several key players ahead of their Tri-Nations clash with South Africa on August 20.
Henry has cited the need to rest some players, while giving others the chance to press for Rugby World Cup selection, as reasons for the make-up of the All Black squad to travel to South Africa. A number of key players, including skipper Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Mils Muliaina and Conrad Smith, have been left out of a 25-man squad for the clash in Port Elizabeth next weekend.
With McCaw staying home, 84-Test hooker Keven Mealamu will captain the All Blacks for the second time in his career. Despite the absentees, Henry said that the squad was a strong one that had expectations of playing well and winning.
He said it was a case of managing some players, such as those from the Crusaders, who had already travelled to London and twice to South Africa during a longer Super Rugby campaign. They would be would able "to recoup and get in great nick" for the matches ahead.
It was also about giving others, such as fullback Israel Dagg and centre Richard Kahui, game time after coming back from injury. "Some players who have travelled a lot are not going," Henry said.
"Some players who haven't played a lot are playing, so we're trying to give players an opportunity. I think that's very important. We'll be going into the biggest tournament these guys are ever likely to play in, and they want the opportunity of playing in it and playing in it well."
While most of the squad are due to leave Auckland tomorrow morning, Dagg and winger Zac Guildford will stay an extra day to turn out for Hawke's Bay against Bay of Plenty in Rotorua tomorrow.
Henry said that, before the Test against Fiji last month, the selectors spoke to many of those not heading to South Africa to outline what was being planned saying: "We didn't get much of an argument."
One person they didn't talk to was centre Smith, who Henry said hadn't had a lot of football and would probably have liked to have been on the plane. However, Kahui needed to have match play to put his hand up for World Cup selection.
Henry said Nonu had been picked in the squad as cover for second five-eighth, centre and wing. While Henry didn't confirmed it, the comment carried the suggestion of a new-look starting midfield partnership of Sonny Bill Williams and Kahui. Loose forward Victor Vito, a surprise late call-up this week to the All Black camp in Auckland, has also been included.
With Carter not travelling, Colin Slade will get his first start against major opposition in what will be his fifth Test. "It's a great opportunity for Colin," Henry said. "He has to run the team at some stage. He could well have to do that in a rugby World Cup final, who knows, so we just have to give him that experience."
Henry deflected questions about any similarities between the All Blacks' leaving so much experience at home and the absence of 21 frontline players from the Springbok tour party to Australia and New Zealand, reportedly because of injury.
"We didn't look at South Africa and say, they sent a B team, we will send a reduced strength side to South Africa - not part of the thought process at all," he said. "We're just doing what we think is the best thing for this team right now."
There had been doubts over the fitness of Jarrad Hoeata but the lock was cleared to travel after scans revealed minimal damage to his right shoulder.
All Blacks squad:
Forwards: John Afoa, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Jarrad Hoeata, Andrew Hore, Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu (captain), Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Samuel Whitelock, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock and Victor Vito
Backs: Jimmy Cowan, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford, Richard Kahui, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Colin Slade, Isaia Toeava, Piri Weepu and Sonny Bill Williams
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