Nonu can make 12 his own: Henry

NZPA     15 Nov 2006    

All Blacks coach Graham Henry left no doubt that Nonu's shock selection ahead of Aaron Mauger for Sunday morning's (NZT) second Test against France here was on form alone.

He said the powerful Wellington line breaker warranted a place in what he termed "the best All Blacks' team that we could name right now".

Mauger, a classy veteran of 38 Tests, was below his best against the English while Luke McAlister, who played at second five-eighth in the heavy defeat of France last weekend, also missed a couple of tackles.

"We've selected on form on tour," Henry said.

"In the two games we've played, I think Ma'a's played the best of those three. He had a big game against England at Twickenham, his stats were huge.

"He gets the opportunity to be in the No 1 team at No 12, which I think is probably his best position.

"He's got the opportunity to play there in the top company and he deserves that opportunity."

There are five changes from the team who hammered France 47-3 at Lyon, with Nonu's inclusion easily the most notable.

Alongside him, Mils Muliaina appears to be the final solution at centre, beating off the challenge of Conrad Smith, and leaving Leon MacDonald at fullback.

Byron Kelleher replaces Piri Weepu at halfback, Chris Jack takes James Ryan's jersey at lock while Keven Mealamu returns at hooker in place of Anton Oliver to complete a forward pack of outstanding depth and quality.

"It's the No 1 team today, it might not be the No 1 team next week or at the World Cup," Henry said.

"It's a difficult selection. There's probably 30 players who are capable of playing international rugby and every time you pick the team there is probably going to be changes.

"One guy will be fresher and sharper than someone else who has played a couple of Tests."

None of Nonu's 14 Tests have included a start at second five-eighth. He has come off the bench in that position, as he did at Lyon, and started there in the 2004 tour match against the Barbarians.

Backline coach Wayne Smith said Nonu's form, mostly on the wing, for Wellington in the Air New Zealand Cup had been irresistable. He had the priceless ability to place stress on defensive lines, and can break games open with the ball in hand.

Nonu was one of several candidates tried this year at centre, with that position now clearly belonging first and foremost to Muliaina, rather than the returning Smith.

"Conrad is coming off a big injury and I thought he had a quality game at the weekend. He will progress through the Rebel Sport Super 14 and get back to his best form again after a broken leg," Henry said.

"We've got two quality fullbacks, they're right up there in world status. Mils Muliaina and Leon MacDonald are class players and we want to try to play both of them.

"Mils has probably been the most consistent 13 in New Zealand. He's a very experienced player, he's got a good feel for the game wherever he plays.

"He's a good talker and he's going to help a young guy inside him who hasn't played a lot of Test football."

Other notable selections see Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu named on the wing, leaving no place for the luckless Rico Gear, while long-time locking pair Ali Williams and Chris Jack shut out the strong claim of Keith Robinson.

Forwards coach Steve Hansen indicated that Robinson would start in the final tour game against Wales next week. The coaches were wary of putting his battered body through two consecutive Tests.

"It just gives us a bit more time to make sure Robbo's recovered from his Test match. On form he's played really well so deserves to be there," Hansen said.

One-Test halfback Andrew Ellis has been promoted to the reserves ahead of Piri Weepu while first five-eighth Nick Evans, the only member of the 32-strong touring party not to play in either of the first two Tests due to a hamstring injury, is also on the bench.

Team: Leon MacDonald, Joe Rokocoko, Mils Muliaina, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Daniel Carter, Byron Kelleher, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerry Collins, Ali Williams, Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Luke McAlister, Nick Evans, Andrew Ellis, Chris Masoe, Jason Eaton, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore.