By RICHARD KNOWLER in Centurion - The Press
July 23rd, 2009
The return of Joe Rokocoko and Brendon Leonard is a sure indicator the All Blacks will aim to ignite their backline against the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning.
Having been ditched for last weekend's 22-16 win over the Wallabies, Rokocoko returns to the right win in place of Cory Jane and Leonard will get his second start of the year at halfback.
Jane drops to the bench, while Jimmy Cowan, who had a strong game in tough conditions at Eden Park against Australia, drops out completely.
Coach Graham Henry's decision to start skipper and openside flanker Richie McCaw, lock Isaac Ross and centre Conrad Smith confirms he is confident they have recovered from the minor injuries they suffered against Australia.
Leonard's selection is no real surprise, given that Henry hinted last week that he would get a run on the hard South Africa grounds which would they suit his ability to turn around defences with his speed from second-phase play.
Rokocoko, too, should enjoy the dry conditions.
After being dropped from last week's starting team because of poor form, it appeared he would have to wait some time before winning his coach's trust again. Instead, Rokocoko's rejection lasted only seven days.
Jane could feel miffed that he has been jettisoned after getting few opportunities at Eden Park, although his selection was clearly based to suit the All Blacks' game plan of hoofing the ball into the air and putting their opponents under pressure with an enthusiastic kick-chase.
Before the test against Italy in Christchurch last month, Henry issued a public warning that Rokocoko needed to lift his game, and although he scored a try in that messy win, he was dropped for the Bledisloe Cup fixture in Auckland.
Now Henry will be hoping that spell on the bench has shaken Rokocoko from his sloth.
Rodney So'oialao, although far from his best in his comeback match last weekend from a lengthy layoff, gets another start ahead of Kieran Read.
It is no surprise that Stephen Donald has been retained at first five-eighth after his improved effort at Eden Park. Donald will be eager to have the chance to play with a dry ball on the high veldt.
Although Dan Carter, who could make his comeback match for Southbridge this weekend, may be back in the New Zealand side as soon as next month's Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Sydney, Donald has proved he can be a competent backup.
The All Blacks can expect a rigorous workout from the Springboks forward pack, with coach Peter de Villiers slotting menacing lock Bakkies Botha back into the side after his suspension for reckless play.
De Villiers has made eight changes from the side that lost the third test to the British and Irish Lions almost four weeks ago.
HOW THEY LINE UP
All Blacks: Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Jason Eaton, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Luke McAlister, Cory Jane.
Springboks: Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Ruan Pienaar, Fouire du Preez, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit (c), Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira.
Reserves: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jannie du Plessis, Danie Rossouw, Ryan Kankowski, Ricky Januarie, Morne Steyn, Wynand Olivier.
Referee: Allan Rouland (Ireland)**
When and where: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, 3am Sunday
**it's Alain Rolland (french name!!!!)