Joe Rokocoko one of two All Black changes

2009-07-23 00:00

ALL Black coach Graham Henry has made two changes, including wing Joe Rokocoko and scrumhalf Brendon Leonard, in the starting line-up for Saturday’s Tri-Nations international against the Springboks in Bloemfontein.

Rokocoko, one of the most ruthless finishers in world rugby, and the strong-running Leonard will add to the attacking potential of the All Blacks, who clearly want to play a high tempo, expansive game against the Boks.

Rokocoko, who dislodges Cory Jane on the right wing for his 56th Test cap, has scored nine tries against South Africa, one behind Christian Cullen’s record of 10.

However, the pacy wing has shown patchy form in recent weeks and South Africans will be hoping he has one of his off-days on Saturday.

Leonard takes over from Jimmy Cowan at scrumhalf in the only other change to the team that began their Tri-Nations defence with a 22-16 win over the Wallabies in Auckland last weekend.

“They were very much a horses-for-courses selection and I don’t see any reason why the changes will make the team any weaker,” forwards coach Steve Hansen said yesterday.

Rokocoko struggled against France and Italy in the recent Tests, but Henry said he was confident the Fijian-born wing would bounce back on Saturday.

“His form hasn’t been great this year, but he’s trained well the last couple of weeks and I believe he’s ready to go. He has experience, he’s played a large number of Tests in South Africa and done very well against them.

“He’s played 55 Tests for the All Blacks and I’m sure he will want to prove himself again,” Henry said.

Henry said Leonard’s selection was aimed at a faster game on the hard Boemfontein surface,

“The conditions may suit his style. He’s quick and pretty sharp on the break.

“Brendon’s a very talented footballer and, if we didn’t play him, he’d just fade away.”

Henry said both Cowan and Jane had done well against the Wallabies.

“Jimmy [Cowan] had one of his better Tests in an All Black jersey, maybe his best, so it was a huge decision, definitely our most difficult selection,” Henry said.

Cowan has failed to make the 22-man squad with Piri Weepu on the reserve bench.

Henry said his role was to finish for the All Blacks.

“Piri is the guy who comes on and changes the game for us.”

Replacements Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks and Kieran Read, who all made a significant impact in the All Blacks’ second half revival against the Wallabies, surprisingly all remain on the bench.

“We were really happy with the effort and the progress of the team against Australia and we are looking for continued improvement in the first Test against South Africa,” Henry said.

“It will be a massive challenge against our old foes.”

Hansen said he expected loose forwards Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo, who both made their return from injury against Australia, to have big games on Saturday.

“Richie and Rodney are not yet at their best, but they’ll both be better for having had a game. So they’re both further down the track now and we can expect a big performance from them,” Hansen said.

All Black team: 15-Mils Muliaina, 14-Joe Rokocoko, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10-Stephen Donald, 9-Brendon Leonard, 8-Rodney So’oialo, 7-Richie McCaw, 6-Jerome Kaino, 5-Isaac Ross, 4-Brad Thorn, 3-Neemia Tialata, 2-Andrew Hore, 1-Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Owen Franks, 18-Jason Eaton, 19-Kieran Read, 20-Piri Weepu, 21-Luke McAlister, 22-Cory Jane.

Kick-off: 5 pm.

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