Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Rawlinson to play for All Blacks in his home town

AP , DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

New Zealand's Joe Rokocoko, left, and Anton Oliver play soccer during a training session in Durban, South Africa, on Monday ahead of their 2007 Tri-Nations rugby clash against South Africa on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Durban-born lock Greg Rawlinson returns to his former hometown charged with trying to give the All Blacks a winning start against South Africa in defense of their Tri-Nations rugby crown.

Rawlinson received his second test start -- his first since New Zealand was last in South Africa 10 months ago -- for this Saturday's test at King's Park Stadium.

On arriving in Durban on Monday, All Blacks coach Graham Henry named his match 22 before practice, and swept out more than half the side which was unimpressive in a 64-13 home win over Canada on Saturday.

Most of the changes were expected, with Henry restoring his best loose forwards including captain Richie McCaw, and top front row. Naming former captain Anton Oliver ahead of Keven Mealamu at hooker was among Henry's close calls.

"We had a half a dozen places up for grabs and there was keen competition all down the line," Henry said.

Rawlinson replaced newcomer Ross Filipo to partner Troy Flavell. Rawlinson attended Durban High School and played once for the local Sharks in Super rugby. He made his All Blacks debut a year ago against Ireland, and earned his only previous start last August at Pretoria, where the All Blacks handily beat the Springboks 45-26.

Rawlinson's promotion also owed to the fact that veteran Chris Jack remained in New Zealand for the birth of his first child, and two other leading locks, Ali Williams and Jason Eaton, had long-term injuries.

Mils Muliaina retained the fullback's berth ahead of Leon MacDonald, Doug Howlett made way on the right wing for Joe Rokocoko, and Isaia Toeava, who starred in the series win against France, was back at center for Luke McAlister, who dropped to the reserves.

McCaw and Rodney So'oialo returned to the loose forwards, with Chris Masoe as cover and leaving no room in the reserves for Reuben Thorne, the captain against Canada.

Top-rated Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock were the props with Neemia Tialata on the bench.

Henry said New Zealand won't be discounting the Tri-Nations merely to concentrate on the World Cup.

"The Tri-Nations is a major competition and it is worth winning," he said. "But it is quite odd that we have not won too often in South Africa. I believe the ratio is one in four."

Meanwhile, Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis joined the Springboks squad on Monday as cover for captain John Smit, who was trying to shake off a hamstring strain.

The low-grade injury limited Smit to only the first 11 minutes of the 22-19 win over Australia at Cape Town in Saturday's Tri-Nations opener.

Also recovering were flanker Juan Smith (thigh), and prop Gurthro Steenkamp (right knee).

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