Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mils Muliaina to captain AB's in first three tests - teams named...

Mils Muliaina will become only the second fullback to captain the All Blacks in Test rugby after the first New Zealand squad of the season was named in Auckland on Sunday.

Muliaina, the captain of the beaten Super 14 finalists the Chiefs, will follow 1913 fullback Joe O'Leary who captained the All Blacks in two Tests against Australia.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said he had spoken with Muliaina after the final in Pretoria earlier on Sunday, and while he had been disappointed with the outcome of that game, he was delighted to be named as captain and felt very privileged.

Missing from the squad is No.8 Rodney So'oialo who Henry was emphatic had not been dropped.

So'oialo had a neck problem that needed rehabilitation after a busy Super 14 season and he would be selected for the Tri Nations Series, Henry said.

New caps in the side are prop Wyatt Crockett, lock Isaac Ross and loose forward Tanerau Latimer.

Henry said the selection panel was looking forward to getting back to work after six months out of coaching and they were delighted that France and Italy had picked strong teams for the forthcoming matches in New Zealand.

"There's a wee bit of history with the French, as you know," Henry said.

Injured players, halfback Brendon Leonard and lock Ali Williams, were included in the side and were most likely to be considered for the second Test against France, the second of the three Tests in the series.

Forwards coach Steve Hansen said Wyatt Crockett had moved ahead of other contenders, notably Jamie Mackintosh, as a result of his improved scrimmaging.

"We sat down and talked with him last year and said he needed to do some extra work, especially around his core area. And he has got stronger and is scrummaging better," he said.

Henry said it was likely that Liam Messam would be the preferred choice at No.8 in place of So'oialo while it was a position that Kieran Read could also play.

Backs coach Wayne Smith said he felt utility back Isaia Toeava's best position was fullback and that was where the selectors would like to see him develop.

The All Blacks squad is: John Afoa, Jimmy Cowan, Wyatt Crockett, Stephen Donald, Andrew Hore, Cory Jane, Richard Kahui, Jerome Kaino, Tanerau Latimer, Brendon Leonard, Keven Mealamu, Liam Messam, Mils Muliaina (captain), Ma'a Nonu, Kieran Read, Josevata Rokocoko, Isaac Ross, Conrad Smith, Adam Thomson, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Isaia Toeava, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Rudi Wulf.

The Junior All Blacks side is: Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Aled de Malmanche, Tom Donnelly, Jason Eaton, Hikawera Elliot, Jacob Ellison, Tamati Ellison, Bryn Evans, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Robert Fruean, Hosea Gear, Sione Lauaki, Karl Lowe, Luke McAlister, Jamie Mackintosh, Lelia Masaga, Alby Mathewson, Rene Ranger, Colin Slade, Chris Smylie, Jeremy Thrush, Anthony Tuitavake, George Whitelock, Victor Vito.


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