All Blacks make four changes for 'Boks

by staff

All Blacks selectors have predictably tweaked their playing personnel for New Zealand's opening Tri-Nations rugby Test of the year, against South Africa on Saturday in Wellington.

Head coach Graham Henry and his assistants have made four changes to the starting 15 from the season-opening 60-14 win over Fiji in Dunedin.

Samuel Whitelock returns to lock the scrum alongside Ali Williams and in place of last week's test debutant Jarrad Hoeata, who moves to the reserves bench, while Jerome Kaino is back in his regular starting position at blindside flanker, with Adam Thomson moving to No.8 and Liam Messam named on the bench.

In the backs, Daniel Carter returns to five-eighth ahead of Colin Slade, while Cory Jane has recovered from his finger injury and is on the right wing, with Zac Guildford moving to the left side.

The key change on the bench is the selection of midfield back Sonny Bill Williams, replacing Ben Smith, for his first Test appearance at home.

Henry said the Springboks would be hurting after last week's loss to Australia and would come out firing.

"They are a proud rugby nation and won't want a repeat performance so we will have to be ready for that challenge," he said.

"But we have had a good build up this week and have picked a team we know that will be up for that challenge."

Players returning from injury, not considered for selection, include Richard Kahui (hamstring), Tony Woodcock (foot), Isaia Toeava (hip), Hosea Gear (hamstring) and Israel Dagg (thigh muscle).

Toeava will be available for Auckland in the national provincial championship, while Woodcock will also return to rugby next week and is available for North Harbour.

The All Blacks and Springboks have played each other 81 times, with 45 wins to the All Blacks, 33 to South Africa and three draws.

They last met at the National Stadium in Johannesburg last year when the All Blacks won 29-22.

As well as Tri-Nations points, the Freedom Cup, the trophy contested by the two teams since 2004, will again be up for grabs.

New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Cory Janes, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Adam Thomson, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Jarrad Hoeata, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Sonny Bill Williams.