All Blacks make seven changes

by staff

The All Blacks selectors have not been afraid to rearrange the furniture for the Tri-Nations rugby Test against Australia in Auckland on Saturday night.

Head coach Graham Henry has overseen seven changes to the side who swept aside an under-strength South Africa 40-7 last weekend, with four players to take on Australia set for their first Test appearances of the year.

Owen Franks is to replace his brother Ben at tighthead prop, Keven Mealamu is back at hooker with the combative Andrew Hore on the reserves bench while Brad Thorn is at lock alongside Ali Williams and Kieran Read return at No 8.

Halfback Piri Weepu has been picked to make his first Test start since last year's 23-22 Bledisloe Cup over the Wallabies victory in Sydney, Hosea Gear returns from a hamstring injury to start his first Test of the year on the left wing and Sitiveni Sivivatu is on the right wing.

Henry said the All Blacks expected a completely different level of intensity on Saturday compared to that posed by the Springboks last weekend.

"There is no doubt that the intensity levels will rise for this Test," he said today.

"It's game one in a two-match Bledisloe Cup series involving the teams ranked number one and two in the world. It's a hugely important Test and is going to be a massive challenge, but we are looking forward to that."

All Blacks midfield backs Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith will set a new milestone on Saturday when they are paired together for the 29th time, the most experienced midfield partnership in All Blacks history.

Injured prop John Afoa (cheekbone) was unavailable for selection while several other All Blacks who have had recent injuries are continuing their return to rugby.

Prop Tony Woodcock turned out for North Harbour against Manawatu on Tuesday, fullback Israel Dagg hopes to play for his Napier Pirates club side on Saturday, while Isaia Toeava will be available for Auckland's match against North Harbour on Sunday.

Meanwhile, outside back Ben Smith, who was providing injury cover for the All Blacks squad, has returned to his Otago national provincial championship side.

The All Blacks and Wallabies have played each other 140 times, with 95 wins to the All Blacks, 40 to Australia and five draws. The last Test between the two sides was in Hong Kong last October which Australia won 26-24.

New Zealand team named on Thursday for a Tri-Nations rugby Test against Australia in Auckland on Saturday night:-

Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crocket: Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Sonny Bill Williams.