Umaga likely to be left out for Ireland Test

ALL BLACKS captain Tana Umaga may be shielded from playing in front of irate Irish rugby fans next month as coach Graham Henry looks to keep his players’ workloads in check during a rare Grand Slam tour.

Umaga is seen as a villain in Ireland after a controversial tackle dislocated the shoulder of national captain Brian O’Driscoll in June during the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

O’Driscoll is still recovering from the injury and will not be available for next month’s Test, while Henry has said Umaga will be rested for one game early in the four-Test schedule which takes in Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland in successive weeks.

“He certainly won’t play in both the opening games - he won’t play Wales or Ireland, one of those two,” Henry said after naming his 35-man squad on Sunday.

With Wales the reigning Six Nations champions, Henry is expected to field his strongest combination for the tour opener at Cardiff on November 5 which would leave Umaga on the bench when the All Blacks play Ireland the following week.

It will be the first Grand Slam tour by the All Blacks since Graham Mourie’s side beat all four home nations in 1978, and comes at the end of an arduous season in which they beat the Lions in a three-Test series and won the Tri-Nations championship.

Players’ workloads, or lack of them, have been a big talking point in the tour lead-up after Henry directed an extended layoff for top players after the Tri-Nations series with South Africa and Australia, which saw them miss a varying number of domestic matches.

The likes of Umaga, Richie McCaw and Aaron Mauger all looked off the pace in their national provincial championship comebacks this month.

Just 10 of the 35 All Blacks played in Saturday’s national championship final between Auckland and Otago; Henry said the balancing act was tough.

“We’ve got some guys who played yesterday and are ready for a Test in two weeks’ time and you’ve got other players who haven’t played for four weeks,” he said.

The touring squad includes five new faces as Henry builds for the 2007 World Cup.

Utility back Isaia Toeava, 19, and lock Jason Eaton were the surprise selections, joining utility forward Angus Macdonald - whose father Hamish was an All Black in the 1970s - flanker Chris Masoe and prop Neemia Tialata as the new internationals.

New Zealand Squad:

Backs - M Muliaina (Auckland), L MacDonald (Canterbury), S Sivivatu (Waikato), R Gear (Nelson Bays), D Howlett (Auckland), J Rokocoko (Auckland), I Toeava (Auckland), M Nonu (Wellington), C Smith (Wellington), T Umaga (Wellington, captain), A Mauger (Canterbury), D Carter (Canterbury), L McAlister (North Harbour), B Kelleher (Waikato), P Weepu (Wellington), J Cowan (Southland).

Forwards - R So’oialo (Wellington), M Tuiali’i (Canterbury), R McCaw (Canterbury), C Masoe (Taranaki), J Collins (Wellington), S Lauaki (Waikato), A Macdonald (Auckland), J Eaton (Taranaki), A Williams (Auckland), C Jack (Canterbury), J Ryan (Otago), C Hayman (Otago), G Somerville (Canterbury), N Tialata (Wellington), T Woodcock (North Harbour), J Afoa (Auckland), A Oliver (Otago), K Mealamu (Auckland), A Hore (Taranaki).

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