The All Blacks have kept the changes to a minimum for this weekend’s Tri-Nations Test against the Springboks in Soweto, with fit-again Jimmy Cowan taking over the No.9 jersey and the Franks brothers swapping places.
At tighthead prop, Ben Franks gets the nod ahead of his brother, Owen, who drops out of the matchday 22 altogether, whilst fit-again halfback Cowan (ribs) has been preferred to Piri Weepu in the all-important No.9 jersey.
Cowan and Weepu have been playing musical chairs all year long in the scrumhalf position, but both have made a big impact when given their opportunities in the Tri-Nations.
This week, of course, Cowan will be up against greenhorn Bok halfback Francois Hougaard – both of whom are fiery customers, whilst the All Blacks then have the opportunity of introducing the nippier and more flyhalf-like skills of Weepu should the need arise.
Aside from Weepu’s demotion, the All Blacks brainstrust have made two others changes amongst their replacements, with prop John Afoa providing front row cover and new Crusaders signing Israel Dagg returning to bench duty after missing out against Australia in Christchurch.
Coach Graham Henry has no doubt that it will be a “very different” Springboks side to the one that New Zealand have already beaten twice in this year’s Tri-Nations.
“They will be hugely motivated to turn around those results and we are expecting a hugely physical encounter,” he said.
“Playing the Springboks in Soweto in front of 90-thousand plus fans – it doesn’t get much bigger than this,” added the NZ coach.
“It’s going to be a marvellous occasion, a massive challenge and one which the team is really looking forward to.”
* Meanwhile, star first five-eighth Daniel Carter could pass yet another milestone in his glittering Test career, as he needs just three points to overtake Andrew Mehrtens as the highest All Blacks points-scorer against the Springboks.
Winger Joe Rokocoko needs just one more try against the Boks to equal former star fullback Christian Cullen’s ten career tries against South Africa.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Israel Dagg.