Weepu returns to All Blacks starting lineup against Wallabies

ON BENCH: Alby Mathewson has been handed a spot on the All Blacks reserve bench for the Tri-Nations test against the Wallabies.
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ON BENCH: Alby Mathewson has been handed a spot on the All Blacks reserve bench for the Tri-Nations test against the Wallabies.

One foot on the throat, the All Blacks aren't about to let up the pressure as they look to heap further Bledis-woe on the Wallabies in Christchurch this Saturday night.

Thus coach Graham Henry today named a starting lineup featuring just one injury-enforced change for Saturday's Bledisloe II at AMI Stadium, sticking as close as possible to the troops who thumped Robbie Deans's side 49-28 in Melbourne last weekend.

People's choice Piri Weepu comes in for the crocked Jimmy Cowan at halfback, with the latter suffering rib cartilage damage in the first half of the big win at Etihad Stadium. And Wellington's Alby Mathewson slots into the reserves for what should be a test debut off the bench.

That change should appease fans eager to see Weepu given the starting role after his star turn in Wellington against the Boks, and Cowan's injury delays for now any definitive call from Henry in probably his one contentious position in the team.

The only other change to the match 22 sees Auckland midfielder Benson Stanley get a run on the bench in place of Israel Dagg.

Other than that it's steady as it goes for the All Blacks. And, let's face it, if you're Henry why even think about changing?

The All Blacks have now won their first three Tri-Nations matches of the year by an average margin of 18 points, with an average score of 37 points and have bagged bonus points from all three contests.

They're now just a win away from tucking both the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations trophy away for the year, with still four matches left to play in the competition.
 
It's been as close to perfect as you'll get in this business.

The All Blacks have now also won their past 12 consecutive tests since losing to the Springboks in Hamilton last September and have rattled off eight straight victories over the Wallabies since the defeat in Sydney in 2008 which proved a false dawn for new Kiwi coach Deans.

Even Henry had to admit that it was a "sad" turn of events from Deans' perspective who this week returns to his old home town with the Wallabies for the first time since taking up the job across the ditch.

"I'd feel that would be very difficult to handle," said the All Blacks coach of the unthinkable prospect of losing eight straight to one rival.

Sad and difficult maybe, but the All Blacks will be well aware of the maxim about never giving a sucker an even break.

Right now the All Blacks own the Wallabies and, if anything, the gap between the two appears to be getting wider.

There's been much talk about the tough red card handed out last week to Wallaby winger Drew Mitchell early in the second half effectively ruining any chances the Australians had, but the reality is they were long gone by then anyway, with the All Blacks already leading by 18.

Henry will no doubt make that point to his men this week. They're verging on the point of getting inside the Australians' heads. Of creating some serious psychological ascendancy – if they haven't already.

Remember, this is a young, developing Wallabies side. It's in the All Blacks' interests to keep inflicting hammer-blows to their psyche as they look to establish themselves as a legitimate test force/

Plus, the All Blacks are simply riding a wave of form at the moment that's hugely impressive.

Henry will be keen for that to continue for as long as possible as his men create the blueprint for playing under the latest law interpretations.

With the likes of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Keven Mealamu, Brad Thorn, Dan Carter, Cory Jane and Mils Muliaina on top of their games, now is not the time to suffer a misstep.

This weekend's match will also be significant for 28-year-old second five Ma'a Nonu who will earn his 50th test cap. Tony Woodcock also plays his 67th test, becoming the most capped prop in All Blacks history.

Last week Carter passed a number of significant points-scoring milestones: with 1094 points so far, he is now the second highest points scorer in international history behind England's Jonny Wilkinson (1178); and he has scored 226 points against the Wallabies, the most by any player against one opponent in the history of the test game.

"The win on the weekend in Melbourne was very pleasing and the exciting thing is that there is a real desire amongst the players to build on that performance," said Henry.

"It's good to be back in Christchurch, there's a real test match buzz in the city, and the guys are really looking forward to playing in the rebuilt AMI Stadium."

The test kicks off at 7.35pm on Saturday, with just a few thousand tickets left to sell before the house-full signs go up.

The team is:

All Blacks: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Piri Weepu; 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Benson Stanley.

STARTING SPOT: Piri Weepu will be the All Blacks' starting halfback after injury ruled Jimmy Cowan out of the Tri-Nations test against the Wallabies in Christchurch.
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STARTING SPOT: Piri Weepu will be the All Blacks' starting halfback after injury ruled Jimmy Cowan out of the Tri-Nations test against the Wallabies in Christchurch.

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