Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Henry pulls ABs backline surprise

By RICHARD KNOWLER in Hamilton - The Press

It's enough to make even Peter de Villiers stop jabbering for a few moments.

Just when he was expected to name playmaker Dan Carter at second five-eighths, the position he has filled at training in recent days, All Blacks coach Graham Henry yesterday listed him at No10 and Stephen Donald at No12 for Saturday night's Tri-Nations test against the Springboks at Waikato Stadium.

Even Springboks coach and test rugby's motor-mouth De Villiers must smell a rat from as far away as his squad's base on the Gold Coast.

Although there has been widespread approval of Henry's decision to retain Carter in the No10 jersey, there is a suspicion he will not always be used in the playmaker's position on Saturday night and that his coach is brewing a plan that will involve both of them sharing the responsibilities and using their different kicking feet one left, one right to good effect.

For Donald, this is another opportunity to revive his flagging test career even if it is in the unfamiliar second five-eighth spot and he is fast becoming the man required to patch-up the backline holes.

When Carter was still recuperating from his ruptured Achilles tendon it was Donald who eventually took over the responsibilities at first-five, because Luke McAlister failed to come up to scratch in the playmaker's role. Now he will carry the load at second-five, with McAlister's broken cheekbone ending his Tri-Nations campaign against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 22. Centre Conrad Smith is also injured with a hamstring strain.

By pairing Donald with Ma'a Nonu in the midfield, Henry has opted to stick with the same backline that finished the Bledisloe Cup test match in Sydney. Donald had to sift through his memory to recall his last start at No12 and reckoned it was a season after he left Wesley College.

"I have played 10 or 15 minutes, here and there, with the Chiefs when they have brought another first-five on in games. The last time I started was probably for Counties against Thames Valley five or six years ago on a lovely wet day in Pukekohe."

Backs coach Wayne Smith said Carter and Donald would be used as they are numbered but "probably in a less traditional way that we've seen before. It'll be closer to the Aaron Mauger-Dan Carter scenario, but predominantly they will be playing those roles".

Carter and Donald last started alongside each other against the Wallabies in Hong Kong last year, but with the latter at first-five.

The All Blacks' midfield options have dropped away this season with Richard Kahui (shoulder), Tamati Ellison (calf), Smith and McAlister falling injured.

Isaia Toeava, who has been struggling with a muscle problem in his backside and has required medication to fix the problem, was another option but has been listed in the reserves.

Henry also pondered shifting Mils Muliaina from fullback to centre.

Donald said he was rapt about his midfield callup.
"I didn't think in my wildest dreams I would have to partner Ma'a Nonu in the midfield for the All Blacks," he said."We have played a lot of rugby with me at 10 and him at 12 so I know his voice and I know what he wants to do. As far as that goes I have got a bit of a head start."

All 31,500 tickets have sold for the test.


Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, Ma'a Nonu, Stephen Donald, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Issac Ross, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
SUBSTITUTES Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Adam Thomson, Rodney So'oialo, Brendon Leonard, Isaia Toeava, Cory Jane.

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