Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup

ABs name near full-strength side

ABs name near full-strength side

THE INCLUSION of Piri Weepu in the starting XV and Ali Williams’ demotion to the bench are the key features of the All Blacks side named to face Australia in the Tri Nations decider in Brisbane this Saturday.

Coach Graham Henry has named close to a full strength side for the winner-takes-all clash at Suncorp Stadium, with prop Owen Franks, lock Brad Thorn, skipper Richie McCaw, No 8 Kieran Read, first five Dan Carter, second five Ma’a Nonu, centre Conrad Smith and fullback Mils Muliaina returning after skipping last weekend’s 18-5 loss to the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.

Weepu gets the nod ahead of Jimmy Cowan in the No 9 jersey, while the selectors’ decision to go with Thorn and Sam Whitelock in the second-row sees Williams drop to the reserves.

Another front-line starter, blindside flanker Jerome Kaino, is unavailable as his partner is due to give birth.

That means Adam Thomson will take his place on the short side of the scrum.

Cory Jane and Zac Guildford are given the first crack on the wings, with Israel Dagg and Isaia Toeava on the bench.

Toeava’s inclusion means Sonny Bill Williams falls out of the match-day 22.

“This is a tournament–defining match for the team,” says coach Graham Henry.

“The winner wins the Tri Nations, it’s as simple as that. Australia are a dangerous team to play and they will be looking to bounce back from the loss against us in Auckland, so we will have to play at our very best. It’s going to be a massive test match.”

Earlier this week, the Wallabies coach Robbie Deans made three changes to his starting team.

Midfielder Anthony Faingaa, No 8 Radike Samo and lock Dan Vickerman have all been included in the run-on side, which will be captained for the first time by James Horwill.

Samo – who will play his first test for the Wallabies since 2004 – replaces Scott Higginbotham at the boot of the scrum.

Faingaa slots in at outside centre between number 12 Pat McCabe and the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper, who moves to the wing in place of the ineligible James O’Connor.

Vickerman replaces Nathan Sharpe in the second-row, with the latter to captain the Australian Barbarians against Canada tomorrow night.

Rocky Elsom retains his spot at blindside, despite being dumped last week as skipper.

The All Blacks and Wallabies have played each other 141 times, with 96 wins to the All Blacks, 40 to Australia and five draws.

The last test at Suncorp Stadium was in 2008, when the All Blacks beat the Wallabies 28–24.

All Blacks: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock
Reserves: Andrew Hore, John Afoa, Ali Williams, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Isaia Toeava

Wallabies: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Faingaa, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Radike Samo, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom, James Horwill (c), Dan Vickerman, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu
Reserves: Saia Faingaa, Salesi Ma’afu, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Luke Burgess, one to be confirmed

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