Ten weeks after suffering a broken leg in his debut Test, traditional Fijian medicine has brought All Blacks try ace Waisake Naholo back and ready to confront Georgia in the Rugby World Cup today.
One day after the All Blacks beat Argentina in Christchurch, New Zealand, in July, grim-faced coach Steve Hansen revealed Naholo had a fracture that had ended his World Cup chances.
However, Hansen was all smiles on Wednesday when naming his “best 23” to play Gerogia. Naholo was named alongside Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read and a host of other senior All Blacks who did not start in the 58-14 romp over Namibia.
Georgia should pose no more difficult a challenge, but Hansen has decided it is time his defending champions started to bed-in their top side. Some selections raised eyebrows.
Regular props Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks are benched and replaced by Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina. Sonny Bill Williams starts at inside center, with Ma’a Nonu suffering a previously unannounced shoulder injury.
However, the main talking point was the inclusion of Naholo, who was selected for the World Cup when not fully fit, but who Hansen always said would be his attacking weapon.
“It is exciting for us to have him back,” he said of the Super XV top try scorer. “There has been a lot of talk about a miracle cure, but he has comeback when we expected him to come back.”
After Naholo was told by New Zealand doctors that a stress fracture would not heal in time for the World Cup, he went to Fiji for a traditional treatment with an application made from a special leaf applied to the leg.
At a media conference where the team to play Georgia was named, Hansen shut down questioning about a “miracle cure” for Naholo.
“He is not a witchdoctor, not a doctor, all he knows is his leg is right,” Hansen said. “We know his leg is right, because he has had it X-rayed.”
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith, a teammate of Naholo at Otago Highlanders, said the big wing was raring to get back on the field.
“He has been getting killed in the gym … but you could see the relief when he got named and how excited he is,” Smith said. “I am just an excited fan of watching the guy run.”
Julian Savea is to start on the other wing for his third consecutive match and Ben Smith returns at fullback to give the All Blacks a potent backline.
Williams, a standout performer in the All Blacks opening wins against Argentina and Namibia, comes in for Nonu, who is one of four players not considered because of injury. Liam Messam is still recovering from a calf injury while Colin Slade (hamstring) and Beauden Barrett (whiplash) are expected to be fit by next week.
Usual scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, a former New Zealand Schools flyhalf is to be Carter’s back up at No. 10 and would also kick if required.
The new look in the forwards sees role reversals with Charlie Faumuina and Wyatt Crockett, while Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock warm the bench.
Hansen described the switch as “a reflection on what Wyatt and Charlie have been doing.”
“Both of them have been playing really well and we now want to see them start a game and see how it goes,” he added.
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