New Zealand have made 11 changes to their starting line-up for the weekend's Tri Nations Test against South Africa.
All Blacks to put out fringe players for Springboks Tri Nations Test
PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA // New Zealand have made 11 changes to their starting line-up for the weekend's Tri Nations Test against South Africa, recalling a string of players today who are in the reckoning for the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad.
Prop Tony Woodcock, centre Richard Kahui, winger Isaia Toeava and fullback Israel Dagg return from injury for their first Tests of the season and have just the Springboks match to impress before the squad for the September 9 to October 23 World Cup is announced on Tuesday.
Kahui will partner Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield in Saturday's first rugby international at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Colin Slade makes his second Test start in place of the rested fly-half Daniel Carter.
Prop John Afoa, lock Sam Whitelock, loose forwards Adam Thomson and Liam Messam and scrum-half Jimmy Cowan are the other changes to the team that beat Australia 30-14 two weeks ago.
Winger Hosea Gear, lock Ali Williams, flanker Jerome Kaino and hooker Keven Mealamu were retained, while second rower Jarrad Hoeata, loose forward Victor Vito, scrum-half Andy Ellis and utility back Cory Jane were given a chance to make their World Cup claims from the bench.
The 84-times capped Mealamu will captain the All Blacks for the second time in a Test in the absence of regular skipper Richie McCaw. McCaw and Carter were among a group of frontliners left at home by New Zealand ahead of next week's Tri Nations decider against Australia in Brisbane.
As well as giving some fringe players a chance to push their World Cup credentials, Saturday's game will give New Zealand a chance to inflict a psychological blow against the struggling world champions South Africa; one of their main rivals for the William Webb Ellis trophy.
South Africa have lost all three games in the Tri-Nations this season and are in danger of going winless through the southern hemisphere championship for the first time ever. New Zealand are 2-0 ahead of their first away match of the tournament.
"There is excitement across the board in the squad and every player will be looking to put in a big performance this weekend," the All Blacks coach Graham Henry said.
"Playing the Springboks at home is always a massive occasion and with Rugby World Cup spots also up for grabs, our players will be looking to put in a big performance.
"We know we will also be facing a wounded Springboks side who will want to bounce back from their three losses on the trot so we will have to be ready for a huge physical contest."
New Zealand and South Africa have met four times in the south coast city of Port Elizabeth, and last played here in 1970. The Springboks have won all four games.
The Springboks flanker Juan Smith has ruled himself out of contention for South Africa's World Cup squad because of a long-term Achilles tendon injury.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers said that Smith, a key member of South Africa's 2007 World Cup winning team, had informed him of his decision yesterday.
"Juan had been in a race against time to be fit and we were keen to give him every opportunity to prove himself," said De Villiers.
"A fully fit Juan Smith would have been an enormous asset to our campaign and this is a major disappointment. But it was obvious that he was still some way from full fitness and his decision confirms the advice of our medical team."
Smith suffered the injury in a Super 15 match for the Cheetahs in February.
"I've worked very hard to get back on the training field but I'm still some way from full fitness and have been training with quite a lot of pain," he said.
The Springbok World Cup squad will be announced on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Australia coach Robbie Deans has refused to explain his reasons for omitting the Wallabies fly-half Matt Giteau from his 30-man World Cup squad.
Giteau, 28, made way for fly-half Berrick Barnes as backup for Quade Cooper, an announcement foreshadowed by Giteau's thinly veiled Twitter post yesterday when he hinted at his imminent axing.
Deans denied there was any friction between he and 92-Test veteran Giteau, but would not explain his reasons for dropping him.
"I don't want to go into specific details," he said. "It's tough enough for him to swallow without picking over that as well."
Deans said he broke the news to Giteau yesterday, shortly after arriving back in Australia from the Wallabies' Tri Nations tour of South Africa.
"I wanted to be able to talk to him face to face," Deans said. "I didn't want to impart the message via a text or a phone call. He's earned that respect."
Deans said Giteau, "took it well" when called to the Wallabies team hotel to learn of his omission.