The All Blacks play Japan on Friday from Hamilton, Scott Donaldson looks at this game.
The New Zealand All Blacks were to have paid Japan the ultimate
complement by naming a close to full strength side for their Friday
night match in Hamilton, but late withdrawals by experienced players
like Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina means that the team
isn't at full strength. Israel Dagg is also injured and you wonder if
they were playing France on Friday, if these guys would be playing?
There is no point risking them in a game the All Blacks should win
easily and they are being wrapped in cotton wool to play France next
week. Carter has been replaced by Colin Slade, while Jimmy Cowan comes
onto the bench. Victor Vito comes in at Number Eight with Adam Thomson
starting in McCaw's spot on the flank Isaia Toeava comes in at
fullback for Mils Muliaina who loses his chance to impress the
selectors. These injuries could be for the best as they give Colin
Slade, Isaia Toeava and Adam Thomson a chance to get the monkeys off
their backs following recent indifferent performances for the All
The All Blacks selectors have given Mils Muliaina a
chance to prove he is better than the exciting Israel Dagg at fullback
and captain Richie McCaw earns his 100th cap. This team pays Japan the
ultimate complement but looking like a full strength side with only
Kieran Read, Jimmy Cowan and potentially Israel Dagg missing from a top
lineup that would start both next week against France and in the
Andy Ellis could be getting his last run of the
tournament at halfback, so don't read too much into that. Conrad Smith
renews his partnership with Ma'a Nonu as the top midfield combination,
while a strong performance against Tonga has shown us that Richard
Kahui is now a first choice winger and he gets a start on the left
wing. Muliaina is feeling the pressure after another great performance
by Israel Dagg against Tonga.
In the forwards the All Blacks have
probably gone for their best lineup for this match, although the most
under pressure will be Number Eight Adam Thomson who returns from
injury. With Kieran Read out injured Adam Thomson has the chance to
push for a Number Eight starting spot in a head to head race with the
more bulky Victor Vito.
It will be good for this team to have a
run together before they play France. It is hard to know what you can
read into these selections. I think Zac Guildford is on the scrapheap
now. I wonder if the selectors initially brought Kahui as a winger or
it has just worked out that way? I think he is a great option. Are they
just giving the quicker pass of Andy Ellis some game time for fitness?
I think Cowan will be great against the bulkier teams like South Africa
and England, but Ellis and Weepu could be options against Australia.
have played their cards with the announcement of a largely changed team
from the side who lost 47-21 to France in their opening match. New
Zealand coach John Kirwan has shown that his teams' priorities lie in
later matches by making ten changes leaving a B side to tackle the All
This Japan team still includes a few New Zealand born
players like Michael Leitch and first five Murray Williams, but they
are resting their former Super Rugby players like Ryan Nicholas and
James Arlidge for this match.
Will the All Blacks be able to beat
their 145-17 result from 1995? I think that despite not having their
top players, Japan has more depth these days and expect this near full
strength All Blacks side to be the first team to crack the fifty
points, but they shouldn't crack the ton given the nature of the
tournament so far!
<span style="font-weight:bold;">All Blacks</span>:
ALL BLACKS: Isaia Toeava, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Richard
Kahui, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Victor Vito, Adam Thomson, Jerome
Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Woodcock.
Reserves: Andrew Hore, John Afoa, Ali Williams, Anthony Boric, Jimmy
Cowan, Piri Weepu, Sonny Bill Williams.
style="font-weight:bold;">Japan</span>: Taihei Ueda; Takehisa
Usuzuki, Koji Taira, Yuta Imamura, Hirotoki Onozawa; Murray Williams,
Atsushi Hiwasa; Naoki Kawamata, Yusuke Aoki, Nozomu Fujita; Hitoshi
Ono, Toshizumi Kitagawa; Itaru Taniguchi, Michael Leitch, Takashi
Replacements: Hiroki Yuhara, Kensuke Hatakeyama,
Yuji Kitagawa, Sione Talikavili Vatuvei, Tomoki Yoshida, Shaun Webb,
Are these late changes because Japan isn't at full strength either? Or do you see the All Blacks as having legitimate injury concerns?