NZ wary of motivated Elsom

Rocky Elsom (Gallo)
Rocky Elsom (Gallo)

Brisbane - All Blacks flank Adam Thomson says his Wallabies opposite number Rocky Elsom could pose a renewed threat to New Zealand in the deciding Tri-Nations match Saturday now that he is unburdened by the Wallabies captaincy.

Elsom was replaced as Australia captain last week by lock James Horwill, who will lead the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand starting September 9.

"I guess when you do take away something like the captaincy, then he can just focus on his own job," Thomson said on Thursday. "He will be pretty pumped up as well and knows that he will have to put a performance in - that the captaincy won't keep him selected just outright.

"He'll be into it and it might make him more dangerous, and that's not a good thing for us."

Elsom, though, played down any benefit to his game from losing the captaincy.

"Maybe," he said when asked if it would help him rediscover his dynamic best. "You never know how things will work out. You can't predict everything."

Elsom also dismissed any notion he is now under pressure to keep the No. 6 jersey he has virtually owned since the 2007 World Cup.

"Every week it's like that and when you lose sight of that, for whatever reason, it's liable to bite you," Elsom said. "I guess if you are a player in this team, or any team, that's the way it is every time you go out on the weekend and you need to justify your existence."

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were recalled among 11 changes in the All Blacks' squad for Saturday's match, which comes just a week after a loss in South Africa.

As expected, the revamped lineup for the last outing before New Zealand's home World Cup includes captain McCaw on the side of the scrum, Carter at flyhalf, lock Brad Thorn, No. 8 Kieran Read, centres Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith and fullback Mils Muliaina.

Nonu replaces rugby league convert Sonny Bill Williams, who started in New Zealand's loss to South Africa.

A regular squad member before the Springboks test, Williams' lack of utility value in the backline has ultimately cost him a place on the bench in New Zealand's last test before it kicks off the World Cup in Auckland on September 9.

"Sonny Bill's challenge is, I think, he's competing against the best No 12 in the world and that's great," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said on Thursday. "Quite frankly it's a different experience for Sonny Bill. He's always been, and rightly so, the top person in that position in the teams he's played in, whether it be rugby league or rugby union."

The starting backline is completely changed for the Australia match, with only hooker Keven Mealamu, prop Tony Woodcock, lock Sam Whitelock and flanker Adam Thomson retained from the All Blacks team which lost 18-5 in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

"This is a tournament-defining match for the team," Henry said. "The winner wins the Tri-Nations, it's as simple as that.

"Australia are a dangerous team to play and they will be looking to bounce back from the loss against us in Auckland, so we will have to play at our very best. It's going to be a massive test match."

The second-string All Blacks were given a chance to impress in South Africa before the World Cup squad was announced this week, affording the team's senior stars a rest.

The latest team includes 10 starters who beat the Wallabies 30-14 in Auckland on Aug. 6, when the Bledisloe Cup was retained.

Australian utility back Berrick Barnes also has a chance to impress when he lines up as flyhalf for the Barbarians against Canada on Friday.

Barnes, who has recovered from a self-imposed period on the sidelines due to persistent headaches, is looking to play himself into the vacant spot on coach Robbie Deans' bench for Saturday's test.

"I would love an opportunity to be on the bench," he said. "But we will see how it pans out and who comes through unscathed tomorrow night."

Barnes was included in the Wallabies World Cup squad at the expense of 92-Test veteran Matt Giteau, who later withdrew from the Barbarians lineup.

"I can't say anything other than we were both working hard for a spot and the cards fell my way this time," Barnes said of the World Cup selection, adding. "I am definitely disappointed for him.

"He is a bloke who can cover a hell of a number of positions ... but it is what it is."

The All Blacks and Wallabies are level atop the Tri-Nations. New Zealand is going after its 11th title since the championship began in 1996. Australia last won it in 2001.

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