New Zealand offer quake assurance

WITH a year to go to Rugby World Cup 2011, tournament organisers in New Zealand says preparations are well on track, despite last week’s earthquake near Christchurch.

More than 100,000 homes were damaged in and around the South Island city, which will be one of the focal points for next year’s tournament.

Yet Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden insisted: “The foundations are being laid for a tournament all New Zealanders will be proud of.

“But we acknowledge this is a tough time for Canterbury, one of the key members of our team.

“We are monitoring potential impacts on our planning for RWC 2011, but at this stage there is nothing to suggest the region will not be able to play its part in hosting this event. Stadium Christchurch, venue for seven RWC 2011 matches, was given the all clear by structural engineers yesterday and that is great news.”

The host nation are on the road tomorrow in Sydney for the opening Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia, with the All Blacks making five changes to their XV as they seek a record 10 consecutive wins over the Wallabies, a 15th victory in a row and to also become the first team to win all six matches in a Tri Nations series.

Aaron Cruden’s first Test start at fly-half coincides with Piri Weepu’s elevation ahead of Jimmy Cowan at scrum-half.

Israel Dagg gets a chance to impress on the left wing with Joe Rokocoko dropping out of the 22-man squad.

Blindside flanker Victor Vito replaces Jerome Kaino, who moves to the bench, while prop Owen Franks regains his number three jersey.

The Wallabies have made just one switch from their 41-39 win over South Africa in Bloemfontein last weekend, bringing in Lachie Turner on the wing for the injured Drew Mitchell.

NEW ZEALAND: M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, I Dagg; A Cruden, P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, O Franks; B Thorn, T Donnelly; V Vito, R McCaw (captain), K Read.

Replacements: C Flynn, J Afoa, A Boric, J Kaino, J Cowan, C Slade, R Ranger.

AUSTRALIA: K Beale; J O’Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau, L Turner; Q Cooper, W Genia; B McCalman, D Pocock, R Elsom (captain), N Sharpe, M Chisholm, S Ma’afu, S Moore, B Robinson.

Replacements: H Edmonds, J Slipper, D Mumm, R Brown, L Burgess, B Barnes, A Fainga’a.

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