Stephen Donald’s greater experience at flyhalf won him selection over Luke McAlister for New Zealand in their opening Tri-Nations test against Australia on Saturday, coach Graham Henry said.
Donald, who understudied for Daniel Carter last year and was thrust into the starting role for tests against France and Italy last month, had been under an injury cloud after suffering a hamstring strain in the second match against France.
McAlister slotted into the position against Italy in Christchurch, but a back injury ruled him out of two club matches before Saturday’s clash at Eden Park.
The All Blacks delayed naming their team for a day until yesterday to allow Henry and selectors Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith to assess both players’ fitness after training on Tuesday.
“We didn’t know if we were going to have any fit ones [flyhalves] at the end of last week but they’re [both] available to play,” Henry told reporters in Auckland. “We’ve gone for Steve Donald. He is very experienced in that position.”
“We decided the navigation of the team was the crucial thing and the guy being used to doing that over a long period of time. That is what Steve Donald has done,” he said.
Henry also welcomed back Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo for the match after both missed the Tests last month as they recovered from injuries.
Winger Sitiveni Sivivatu also returns after he missed last months Tests with a shoulder injury.
“It’s great to have the old warrior back in Rodney and Richie’s captaincy, which is very important to the team. And Siti [Sivivatu] as well,” Henry said.
“There are 10 guys in the leadership group and five didn’t play in the last Test match or take any great part in the series just gone so it is good to have that experience back,” he said.
Cory Jane has slotted in on the right wing, with Joe Rokocoko dropping to the bench.