New Zealand have made four changes to their starting side for Saturday’s Tri-Nations opener against world champions South Africa.
Number eight Jerome Kaino replaced injured captain Richie McCaw in a reshuffled back row and prop Tony Woodcock will make his first start of the season at the expense of Neemia Tialata, according to SuperRugby.
Coach Graham Henry made two changes in the backline, recalling outside centre Conrad Smith and fullback Mils Muliaina for Richard Kahui and Leon MacDonald.
“South Africa has a very strong team right now and we have a huge challenge in front of us,” Henry said in a statement.
With McCaw unavailable, Rodney So’oialo takes over the captaincy and his position at openside flanker, moving from the back of the scrum to accommodate Kaino.
Lock Ali Williams was also named in the starting side despite not being able to train since spraining his ankle in the second test against England two weekends ago.
“Ali is an experienced player and the limited preparation shouldn’t be an issue,” Henry said. “We just need to get his ankle right first.”
Jimmy Cowan was retained as reserve scrumhalf after fronting a New Zealand Rugby Union disciplinary hearing after being arrested twice in two months for drinking-related offences.
He was fined and ordered to undergo alcohol counselling but allowed to keep his place in the squad on the condition that he gives up booze.
“Jimmy must change his behaviour if he wants to be a professional rugby player in New Zealand,” All Blacks manager Darren Shand said in a statement.
“We have made it a condition of his employment that he stop drinking altogether. This is his last chance.
New Zealand team – 15-Mils Muliaina, 14-Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Rudi Wulf, 10-Dan Carter, 9-Andy Ellis, 8-Jerome Kaino, 7-Rodney So’oialo (captain), 6-Adam Thomson, 5-Ali Williams, 4-Brad Thorn, 3-Greg Somerville, 2-Andrew Hore, 1-Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Neemia Tialata, 18-Anthony Boric, 19-Sione Lauaki, 20-TBA, 21-Stephen Donald, 22-Leon MacDonaldTweet