By DOUG SAIL, Stuff.co.nz
Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Richie McCaw returns to lead an All Blacks team that contains several changes from the one demolished by Australia in last weekend's Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney. McCaw returns to the side exactly six weeks since he suffered a high ankle sprain against England in Christchurch.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry initially rated his skipper only a 50-50 chance of playing at Eden Park but the flanker has done enough at training to bolster a loose trio bettered on the ground by the Wallabies and Springboks during successive test defeats.
"I think he'll be fully fit for Saturday," Henry said when announcing a team with at least three personnel changes to his starting line-up and five players bracketed because of injuries.
There are brackets at hooker and halfback with final decisions expected on Thursday as injuries to Andrew Hore (hip pointer), Andy Ellis (ribs) and Jimmy Cowan (knee) are monitored.McCaw's return sees Daniel Braid dropped to the reserves bench in a bracket with Adam Thomson while Rodney So'oialo switches to number eight and Jerome Kaino to the blindside flank.
Sione Lauaki, who had a disastrous match when he came on in the second half, has been omitted from the squad completely. Braid's bracketing is probably to cover McCaw again in case the skipper suffers a recurrence of his ankle injury.
Other changes see Conrad Smith returned to the starting line up pushing Richard Kahui to the bench while winger Anthony Tuitavake is out of the squad completely, with Mils Muliaina moving from fullback to the wing to accommodate the return of Leon MacDonald.
Smith now faces the daunting task of marking Australian captain Stirling Mortlock who missed last week's 34-19 win over the All Blacks because of a concussion suffered in their opening Tri Nations match against South Africa a week earlier.
"We've made some tactical changes in our selections,'' Henry said."But we also need to change how we play. Clearly there are areas we need to improve on from Sydney. We have to have the right game plan and execution.''