The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues with promotion of an uncapped 24-year-old

The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues apace with today’s dramatic promotion of uncapped 24-year-old Canterbury son-of-a-gun Tom Taylor to his first test start.

The theory that coach Steve Hansen is rewriting the once conservative book on All Black selection gained further credence when Taylor was named to start at No 10 for Saturday’s second Bledisloe, and Rugby Championship, test against the Wallabies at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.

With Dan Carter (torn calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf strain) all ruled out for Saturday, the All Blacks were down to the fourth and fifth rung on their depth chart when they called up Canterbury team-mates Taylor, son of 1987 World Cup-winning midfielder Warwick Taylor, and 10-test international Colin Slade to bolster their first five-eighths stock.

The conservative pick – the one the All Blacks would probably have gone for under any number of previous coaches – would have been Slade. He has test experience, and that normally counts for a lot. He was even part of the 2011 World Cup-winning campaign, before limping off in the quarter-final with a groin tear.

But Hansen has shown he is a more progressive and more willing to take risks to achieve results than his grounded southern persona perhaps reflects.

Taylor is the risky selection, but also the exciting one. This is a young man who looks like he could be something special, with a steely goalkicking nerve – he slotted them at 90 per cent for the Crusaders this year – and a natural feel for the game that is clearly in his genes.

Slade is also a gifted footballer, but he has struggled to regain his very best form since suffering a succession of injuries following the last World Cup. At 25 he has time still on his side, but he is a young man rebuilding his confidence, rather than revelling in it.

Taylor has been on the All Blacks radar for a while now, with his ability to play 10, 12 or 15 with equal assurance. In fact, his lack of game-time at No 10 further underlines the audacity of Hansen’s selection.

Taylor played one warmup game at first-five for the Crusaders before starting seven matches at second-five and a further three at fullback during their Super Rugby campaign.

But Hansen is happy to roll the dice with an opportunity that has come a little ahead of schedule, and maybe in a different position than he might have envisioned.

“He is mentally tough and plays the game with a lot of confidence and maturity,” said Hansen. “These factors, along with his assured goalkicking under pressure, has made this an easy selection.

“We have every faith that he will handle the occasion with aplomb.”

Taylor is one of two injury-enforced changes from the team that started last week’s impressive Bledisloe victory over the Wallabies in Sydney.

The other will raise less eyebrows, with well performed Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick coming in for Luke Romano who is out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship with a groin injury.

The test will also be the 100th cap for veteran loosehead prop Tony Woodcock who is part of an unchanged front row, deservedly retained after their superior scrummaging display in Sydney.

There is more movement in the reserves, where Wellington hooker Dane Coles comes back into the matchday 23 after proving his fitness at provincial level, as does fit-again prop Wyatt Crockett and Lions skipper Jeremy Thrush to cover lock.

In the backs, Slade makes is named in the All Blacks for the first time since 2011 and Taylor’s ability to cover second-five means Auckland’s Charles Piutau replaces Ryan Crotty as the outside back cover.

Hansen said it would be a special test for Woodcock as he became the All Blacks’ fourth test centurion, behind skipper Richie McCaw (117), Keven Mealamu (105) and Mils Muliaina (100).

Some had wondered whether Woodcock’s days were numbered after Crockett’s performances in the June tests, but last Saturday night provided a timely reminder of what the 32-year-old is still capable of.

“Woody is a hugely respected player within the group who always puts the team first,” said Hansen. “It has been business as usual for him and the team this week, but we will enjoy acknowledging his achievement with him after the game.”

Hansen also warned against any complacency following the 47-29 victory in Sydney that sees the All Blacks just one win away from retaining the Bledisloe Cup for another year.

“They will be hurting after that test and will throw everything at us,” he said. “They will be looking to play with more accuracy and intensity, so we will need to meet – or better – that with a higher level of execution right across the board.”

Meanwhile, Frank Halai (Counties Manukau), Joe Moody (Canterbury) and Brad Shields (Wellington) have been released to play in week two of the national provincial championship if required.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Tom Taylor, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.

– © Fairfax NZ News

NO All Black Rugby tests for Cape Town till after 2015 if that -see below !

The fixtures are*: Castle Incoming Tour

· Saturday, June 8 (Mbombela Stadium): Scotland v Samoa; Springboks v Italy

· Saturday, June 15 (Mr Price Kings Park): Samoa v Italy; Springboks v Scotland

· Saturday, June 22 (Loftus Versfeld): Team 3 v Team 4 ; Team 1 v Team 2

2013 Castle Rugby Championship:

· Saturday, August 17 (Free State Stadium): Springboks v Argentina

· Saturday, September 28 (Newlands): Springboks v Australia

· Saturday, October 5 (Coca-Cola Park): Springboks v New Zealand

2014 Fixtures (dates to be confirmed):

· Castle Incoming Tour: Springboks v Wales (Johannesburg)

· Castle Incoming Tour: Springboks v Wales (Nelspruit)

· Castle Incoming Tour: Springboks v Scotland (Port Elizabeth)

· Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks v Argentina (Pretoria)

· Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks v Australia (Cape Town)

· Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks v New Zealand (Johannesburg)

2015 Fixtures (no Castle Incoming Tour due to Rugby World Cup):

· Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks v Argentina (Cape Town)

· Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks v Australia (Durban)

· Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks v New Zealand (Johannesburg)

*Please note: All fixtures subject to the agreement of commercial terms with planned hosting venues.

Issued by SARU Corporate Affairs

All Blacks spend day hugging the hotel toilets.

Just 48 hours before the final test of an arduous season, almost all of the All Blacks have been struck down by sickness.

Only two members of the extended 34-man playing squad escaped the potentially debilitating bug which first swept through the team in Cardiff last week.

Lock Luke Romano, who is on the bench this weekend at Twickenham, is still struggling and did not train today, but is expected to recover.

All Blacks management haven’t been spared and even Canterbury first five-eighth Tom Taylor, who joined the team in London as injury cover, caught the contagious diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms.

The illness is another challenge facing the All Blacks as they approach their 14th and final test of the year on Sat.

Coach Steve Hansen already had to deal with Andrew Hore’s suspension distraction, wide-spread fatigue and injury concerns, though star pivot Dan Carter, hooker Keven Mealamu and prop Tony Woodcock all came through training unscathed today.

“It’s been a difficult week with a lot of people being sick,” Hansen revealed. “We’ve had guys go down with diarrhoea and vomiting. There’s only two that have missed out. Just getting that mix right has been difficult. Hopefully we’ve been smart enough to keep the energy tank full.”

In private Hansen may have reservations about the influence of the fast-spreading sickness, but he put on a brave face and didn’t let it affect his sense of humour.

“Apparently half of the UK has got it. Hang around here long enough and we’ll give it to you,” he joked to media.

Instead of soaking up the sights of London, most players spent the majority of their day off yesterday hugging the hotel toilets.

“Personally I’m feeling a lot better today. I know the boys had a good guided tour of their bathrooms yesterday on their day off. I think there was a good number. That’s just the way it was,” All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read explained. “I think it’s a 24 hour thing. I haven’t seen everyone today.”

The sickness shouldn’t be anything like the “Suzie the waitress” food poising that ripped through Laurie Mains’ All Blacks before the 1995 World Cup final.

Read downplayed concerns it could expend depleted energy levels.

“I wouldn’t think so. It’s just something you have to handle. We’ll be right for Saturday,” he said.

Replacement hooker Hika Elliot and wing Julian Savea were the only members of the team not to be affected.

“I was fortunate enough to not be sick. I was enjoying my day off,” Savea chuckled thankfully.

Meanwhile, England coach Stuart Lancaster has backed Owen Farrell to replace injured first five-eighth Toby Flood in the only starting change to his team that lost by one point to the Springboks last week.

“He’s got huge qualities. He’s got big game-temperament. It’s a quality that’s important in the international game,” Lancaster said of Farrell, who was nominated for the IRB player of the year award. “He’s excited because he wants to challenge himself against the best. He’s got no better opportunity to have a benchmark.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

Kieran Read will captain an All Blacks team featuring 14 starting changes against Italy.

Kieran Read will captain an All Blacks team featuring 14 starting changes against Italy.

With Richie McCaw being given the week off in Rome to prepare for two tougher assignments ahead, Read has assumed the All Blacks captaincy mantle for the first time this week.

Sunday’s test against the Italians also signals a passing of the baton of sorts with the world-class No 8 set to take over the reigns when McCaw takes his six-month sabbatical next year.

“He’s done a lot of it for the Crusaders. He’s a genuine leader,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of Read.

“He’s been a leader of the forwards and line-out for some time now. It comes naturally to him. Obviously he’s not the finished product at this level but he’ll grow over time into a very good captain.”

McCaw’s absence opens the door for Chiefs openside flanker Sam Cane to gain just his second test start in a totally reshuffled loose-forward trio that includes the return of incumbent blindside Liam Messam.

Cane’s only other chance in the No 7 jersey came in the 60-0 rout over Ireland in June. Hansen is keen to asses his abilities against the rugged Italians, who, according to IRB stats, are the best set-piece side in the Six Nations.

“We’ve already seen enough from Sam Cane to know he’s made for test rugby,” Hansen said. “This game is about giving him another opportunity to get some experience and learn it’s not always going to be an easy ride.”

As expected, the All Blacks will be without their two most influential figures with McCaw in the stands and Dan Carter sitting on the bench to allow Aaron Cruden the chance to boss the back-line.

Carter will provide cover for the reinstated first-choice midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, with Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith suffering injuries against Scotland last week.

Cruden last started in the All Blacks scratchy win over the Springboks in Dunedin and will be intent on proving he can, indeed, command at test level, after leading the Chiefs to the Super Rugby title this year.

Hansen revealed halfback, left wing and fullback were up for grabs, although the injured Israel Dagg is expected to recover next week.

On that basis Aaron Smith, who completes the reunited Manawatu halves partnership, also has plenty to prove.

Smith endured his worst outing in the black jersey in Brisbane and with Piri Weepu applying real pressure for the first time in his short but impressive test career, the Highlanders No 9 needs to reinforce his status this week.

Ben Smith’s injury paved the way for Taranaki first five-eighths Beauden Barrett, in just his fourth test, to make his first start at this level at fullback.

“He [Barrett] probably would have come off the bench again and possibly someone like Ben Smith would have played back there. Ben is a bit injured and couldn’t do it,” Hansen said.

Also for the first time this season powerhouse wings Hosea Gear, who shifts to the right wing, and Julian Savea, the only player in the starting side to back up from the 51-22 victory at Murrayfield, link up in what is a frightening proposition for the Azzurri.

“We were always going to play these two guys together. We haven’t had that luxury this year,” Hansen said.

“We’ve always had the feeling we needed Cory [Jane] out there for that experience. Julian and H have had quite a bit of rugby now and it’s time to see if they can play as a partnership.”

The forward pack has been given a major overhaul with four Blues players handed starting roles.

Talk-back lines will be running hot with Ali Williams set to make his first start at lock in 13 months, his last coming against Canada in the World Cup. Williams has been paired with Brodie Retallick in a new second-row pairing.

In the front-row veteran prop Tony Woodcock, hooker Keven Mealamu and Charlie Faumuina team-up and the two rookies, Dane Coles and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, get another shot off the bench this week.

All Blacks: Beauden Barrett, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden. Aaron Smith. Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Ali Williams, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Dan Carter, Cory Jane

– © Fairfax NZ News

There is potential for the All Blacks’ biggest selection overhaul since 2005 when coach Steve Hansen settles on his side to play Italy.

There is potential for the All Blacks’ biggest selection overhaul since 2005 when coach Steve Hansen settles on his side to play Italy.

Injuries have worsened a situation that was already going to see numerous changes to the side that beat Scotland 51-22 in the tour opener.

Hansen stated all 32 of his tour party would get game time in the first two tests and it would make a lot of sense for the 11 players who did not feature at Murrayfield to get a start.

If that were to happen, the number of changes to the starting XV could approach the total revamp Graham Henry made seven years ago against Ireland.

How close Hansen gets to that number remains to be seen, but some conclusions can be drawn before the side is announced.

Tamati Ellison (toe ligaments) and Ben Smith (fractured cheekbone) have been ruled out this week, while flanker Adam Thomson could yet be suspended.

That means a new midfield with incumbents Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith the obvious choice in a backline that will surely include the return of the in-form Hosea Gear on one wing opposite either Cory Jane or Julian Savea.

It has been strongly signalled that Kieran Read will captain the side from No 8 and that might mean a rare week off for Richie McCaw and an even less common start for Sam Cane at openside.

Israel Dagg may yet take part with his sore buttocks well healed, but with Ben Smith out there is a strong case to look further at the only other serious fullback option in Beauden Barrett, who performed well against the Scots.

Those selections would represent potentially six changes from the side that played Scotland, leaving prop Charlie Faumuina, lock Brodie Retallick, blindside Liam Messam, hooker Keven Mealamu and halves Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden as the remaining players yet to take the field.

Thomson’s likely absence could open the door for incumbent No 6 Messam to reclaim his starting spot, while it may be the only opportunity for Cruden to continue his development at first five-eighth.

Backs coach Ian Foster’s comment that Dan Carter will be covering midfield this week was a strong hint that Cruden will play at 10.

There could be some thought to letting Tawera Kerr-Barlow return in the No 9 jersey after his nervy debut.

But Aaron Smith, like Messam, is the incumbent and in need of a start if he is to push for a place against Wales a week later.

Likewise Dane Coles made a strong impression against the Scots and there would be some curiosity to give him a start with senior man Mealamu off the bench.

In the second row Ali Williams will be champing at the bit to prove his doubters wrong and Faumuina needs maximum game time, though there are a myriad front row options with five props in the tour party.

There will be a few dinosaurs roaring allegations of rotational crimes, but, unlike in 2005, most people will barely bat an eyelid.

On such a short tour it is imperative that Hansen gives players a chance to show their wares in a meaningful way with a schedule that curves upward toward Wales and England.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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2011 Rugby Fixtures

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