NEW Zealand coach Graham Henry revealed the decision to play Dan Carter at inside centre for the historic Bledisloe Cup match with Australia on Saturday was one borne out of necessity.
The talented fly-half will line-up at number 12 at Hong Kong Stadium with Stephen Donald making his first start for the All Blacks at stand-off, having impressed when coming on for the final half-hour of the thrilling 28-24 victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane that sealed the Bledisloe Cup. With little competitive action under their belts since that September triumph, Henry felt it was vital both players were involved from the start, with a gruelling tour of Europe looming large.
“We thought it was important to have two navigators on the field because of their lack of rugby over the last six weeks,” Henry said.
“It gives us two playmakers and we think early in the game that will be helpful. Obviously Dan’s played at 12 before at Test match level and played there in Brisbane, while Steve has only played 10, although it does give us flexibility with a right-footer and a left-footer to change various things during a game.
“We don’t see it as a long-term thing or something we’ll do often but it’s an option we can use.
“We just saw this as the best possible combination for this particular Test match, whether it was a dead Test match or not.”
Assistant coach Wayne Smith also endorsed Donald’s credentials.
“He’s pretty excited to get the opportunity, particularly alongside Dan,” Smith revealed. “It shows a lot of trust in him, he understands that, but he’s a player that’s done very well for us. He’s got a lot of X-factor, a bit unconventional but very effective, and hopefully those two can bring something we need to the game.”
Saturday’s clash, the first time a Bledisloe Cup match will be contested outside of Australasia, also sees a debut for Hosea Gear on the wing, and Henry is looking forward to seeing the younger brother of former All Black Rico in action.
“He’s been in fine form, he’s scored a lot of tries, he looks the part and is very explosive,” added the New Zealand coach.
“He’s in great shape at the moment and we thought we’d introduce that form into this Test. Richard Kahui has been playing that position, he’s done very well for us but he’s a centre playing on the wing. He can play both positions but his major role is a centre.”
Donald and Gear are the only new introductions as prop Ben Franks was denied a spot on the bench due to a back injury, so veteran Greg Somerville, who recently came out of retirement, takes the 24-year-old’s place.
However, Mils Muliaina’s availability is unclear as despite being named in the starting XV, the full-back is still in New Zealand following the birth of son Max on Tuesday.
The All Blacks erased memories of their disappointing exit to France in the last eight of the World Cup with an impressive 2008 Tri-Nations triumph but Henry underlined he resisted the urge to throw too many youngsters in at the deep end against the Wallabies, instead maintaining that the upcoming tour of Europe will present an ideal opportunity to blood players for the future.
“I think this tour is about building depth in the team,” Henry insisted.
“We had half the World Cup squad leave and we’re building a team again and I think this tour will allow us to do that.
“Hopefully, over the next six games we’ll have more guys knocking on the door for Test selection than we do right now.
“When you’re playing a side of Australia’s quality, you don’t want to throw young guys in right away. There’s an appropriate time for them to play and we didn’t think it was this game.”
Although the Bledisloe Cup has already been secured, Henry insisted motivation for Saturday’s encounter would not be a problem.
Henry said: “Any Test match against Australia is a big occasion and I’d imagine that the guys would want to play very well.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a big Test match, we’re playing the old enemy and need to play well and I’m sure they feel the same. I hope they do.”
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