Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 24 News List

All Blacks shuffle deck for Italy

AFP , MARSEILLE, FRANCE

Winger Joe Rokocoko was overlooked by All Blacks coach Graham Henry when he named his team to take on Italy in their World Cup opener In Marseille tomorrow.

Rokocoko is one of four changes from the team which beat Australia 26-12 in the final Tri-Nations clash in July.

Doug Howlett replaces Rokocoko, Keven Mealamu takes over as hooker from Anton Oliver, Ali Williams replaces injured lock Keith Robinson while center Conrad Smith starts ahead of Isaia Toeava.

Smith will form the center partnership with Luke McAlister while Sitiveni Sivivatu remains on the other wing.

Henry defended his decision to leave Rokocoko on the sidelines.

SPOILT FOR CHOICE

"We have a lot of good players in this position," the coach said. "We thought that Doug Howlett had played particularly well in the last few matches in New Zealand."

Henry also said he had opted for Mealamu in place of Oliver because he was "particularly explosive."

Meanwhile, All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said that Smith, whose recent career has been plagued by injuries, was chosen to complement Luke McAlister.

The pair had been in explosive form when the All Blacks toured Europe last year and were most impressive in tandem in the 47-3 rout of France in November.

"Conrad Smith hasn't played for the All Blacks much this year but when we took this decision we thought that Luke McAlister was the best No. 12 to play alongside him," Wayne Smith said.

Henry said the All Blacks, bidding to win a first World Cup since they triumphed in the inaugural event in 1987, were keen for the tournament to start.

"We are all excited to play our first World Cup match," he said. "All of the players are very enthusiastic. In fact, we probably need to be sure that we play sensible rugby on Saturday and don't get over-excited."

COMPETITIVE

"Italy showed their competitiveness in the Six Nations early in the year and against Ireland two weeks ago and they will have a lot of supporters in the stadium. We'll need to be accurate and patient to meet their challenge," Henry said.

The All Blacks are in Pool C along with Scotland, Romania and Portugal.

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