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Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup

Last chance to impress

Last chance to impress

SATURDAY'S TEST against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth is the Last Chance Saloon for several All Blacks to prove their worth before the Rugby World Cup.

Four players – Israel Dagg (thigh), wing Isaia Toeava (hip), centre Richard Kahui (hamstring) and loosehead prop (foot) – will play their first tests of the year and will be under the spotlight after lengthy spells on the sideline injured.

There are examinations in other areas, too.

Colin Slade will run the cutter in what will be his biggest test in the black jersey.

Adam Thomson will wear the No 7 jersey in the absence of Richie McCaw. Having played well in the other two loose forward positions, a big showing here would be enough for him to secure his passage to the RWC.

The same also applies to Liam Messam, who will pack down at the boot of the scrum.

In other changes, prop John Afoa, who is making his return after fracturing his cheek against the Boks in Wellington, gets a rare start, while Sonny Bill Williams is handed his first run-on start of the season and Jimmy Cowan returns at halfback.

The bench has a strange look to it, with two halfbacks – Andy Ellis and Piri Weepu – included in the match-day 22. However, Weepu will provide cover at first five.

Wing Zac Guildford, prop Wyatt Crockett and senior midfielder Ma'a Nonu are the players to miss out.

Crockett and Nonu were only really travelling as injury cover but this might not be a good sign for Guildford's World Cup hopes. Cory Jane's versatility has given him the other backline bench role.

All Blacks Coach Graham Henry says the team has had a great build-up in Port Elizabeth and the team was feeling refreshed and raring to go.

"There is excitement across the board in the squad and every player will be looking to put in a big performance this weekend. Playing the Springboks at home is always a massive occasion and with Rugby World Cup spots also up for grabs, our players will be looking to put in a big performance.

"We know we will also be facing a wounded Springboks side who will want to bounce back from their three losses on the trot so we will have to be ready for a huge physical contest."

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock
Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Jarrad Hoeata, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Piri Weepu, Cory Jane

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