Henry puts faith in All Blacks experience

Graham Henry has selected the most experienced New Zealand side ever in the hope of securing a winning start in the opening Tri Nations Test against South Africa.

Powered by automated translation

Graham Henry has selected the most experienced New Zealand side ever in the hope of securing a winning start in the opening Tri Nations Test against South Africa on Saturday. The All Blacks are desperate to get off to a strong start in Auckland in their attempt to wrest the title back from the Springboks, who won all three of their games against New Zealand last year.

"There are a lot of young guys knocking on the door and they will get their opportunity in time, just like the guys who are taking the field have had to wait to get their opportunity," Henry told reporters after naming four changes to the side that beat Wales 42-9 last month yesterday. "It's important to play the experienced players initially and let them prove they are good enough still to be there, and I'm sure they are.

"The Springboks are the defending Tri Nations champions and, like us, will be keen to kick off their campaign on a winning note. "However, our squad has prepared well and the players are excited by the first up challenge this weekend. It's going to be a massive kick-off to the competition." The starting line-up is the most experienced in New Zealand Test history with a combined 671 appearances, 22 more than the 649 for the opening match of the 2007 World Cup against Italy in Marseille.

Richie McCaw, the team captain, and Mils Muliaina, the full-back, lead the individual count, with 83 Test caps each. McCaw is confident the team can bounce back from last year's disappointing performance in the tournament. "I guess there's a bit of memory about last year and the guys who were there are pretty keen to get stuck in again. "It's been a while since we had a crack [at South Africa] and we've had a while to think about it," he said.

Ma'a Nonu will make his first appearance for the All Blacks this year at inside centre after returning from a knee injury that sidelined him in May. Nonu replaces Benson Stanley, while outside him Conrad Smith takes over from Richard Kahui, who drops back to the replacements bench. Henry said he was confident Nonu would be up to the task, despite the lack of recent action. "He'll be a bit apprehensive; that's only natural," he said.

"But once he gets on the bike in the heat of battle, he will be fine." Veteran Joe Rokocoko returns to the backline ahead of the dropped Zac Guildford, and Henry was quick to defend the winger against suggestions in the media he is no longer at the peak of his powers. He argued Rokocoko had returned to good form in this year's Super 14 and had performed well in two Tests last month against Ireland and Wales.

Owen Franks returns in place of Neemia Tialata at prop after being among the reserves in the 22-10 second Test victory against Wales on June 26. On the All Blacks bench, Corey Flynn, the hooker, and Liam Messam, the loose forward, return for the first time this year alongside Ben Franks, the prop, and Sam Whitelock at lock. Pieter de Villiers, the South Africa coach, postponed naming his team yesterday because of fitness worries regarding Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw, the two locks. *AFP

Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Samuel Whitelock, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui.