World Cup - Dagg, Kahui return for All Blacks
Fri, 14 Oct 14:55:00 2011
New Zealand coach Graham Henry named a largely predictable side for their "biggest game in 10 years" as the All Blacks finalised their preparations for their rugby World Cup semi-final against Australia on Sunday.
Henry brought full-back Israel Dagg and utility Richard Kahui back from injury, while Aaron Cruden assumed the starting role at fly-half after Colin Slade was ruled out with a groin strain.
Captain Richie McCaw was also included in a forward pack that has been Henry's first choice for 12 months.
Cruden had only been brought into the squad after Daniel Carter tore a tendon in his groin while training before the All Blacks' final pool game against Canada. Carter had surgery on the injury on Monday in Melbourne and is expected to be fully recovered in about 12 weeks, the All Blacks said.
"Pretty straightforward (to select)," Henry said at the team's hotel in central Auckland on Friday. "We have played 10 Tests in the last 12 weeks, we should know what we're doing by now.
"(But) it's a big game isn't it? It's the biggest game a lot of them have played in, probably the biggest game in 10 years."
McCaw has been battling persistent foot pain and barely took part in training all week, though Henry said the team had decided it was best to be pragmatic in managing his workload.
"(He has) trained very little and will train very little," Henry added. "He's got a niggly foot and the more we keep him off it the more chance he'll play 80 minutes in the weekend.
"He's frustrated by it obviously. He'd like to take full part. You have to be pragmatic and he's doing that. Some other people might push and not play, he's not pushing it so he can play so he's making good decisions."
McCaw's inclusion ensures Henry has named his strongest possible pack, which is where the All Blacks have a slight advantage, particularly at scrums with the front row of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, and Owen Franks becoming more and more destructive as the tournament has worn on.
"That eight has played a lot of footy together. A lot of Test matches," Henry said. "No excuses for us. We know what the situation is and we have a huge game in the weekend.
"If you're not focused now, you'll never be focused. There's a quiet determination there. They're a bit quieter than usual. Probably because it's such a huge game."
Dagg, who has been impressive throughout the tournament, will slot easily back into the full-back role after Mils Muliaina broke his shoulder last week against Argentina in their 33-10 quarter-final victory.
Utility back Richard Kahui returned to the wing after missing two games, though the 26-year-old, who normally plays centre, has also been superb with four tries and Sonny Bill Williams has dropped to the bench.
"Richard has played superbly. We held him back last week, he perhaps could have played," Henry said.
"The games he has played in the World Cup he has played some top footy. He handles the big occasion very well, it brings the best out of him and perhaps this is his best position (winger), so we didn't have any doubts that if he'd be right he'd be picked.
"Sonny Bill has been a great player to bring off the bench. He can play a number of positions and he has become a bit of a super sub."
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Cory Jane, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Richard Kahui, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Piri Weepu, 8-Kieran Read, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Jerome Kaino, 5-Brad Thorn, 4-Sam Whitelock, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Keven Mealamu, 1-Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16-Andrew Hore, 17-Ben Franks, 18-Ali Williams, 19-Victor Vito, 20-Andy Ellis, 21-Stephen Donald, 22-Sonny Bill Williams
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