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Brett in the firing line at No. 12

Photosport

NZPA     25 May 2007     Photosport

The Canterbury and Crusaders' pivot finds himself in midfield for the Junior All Blacks competition opener against Samoa in Apia on Sunday (NZT), more by accident than design.

With Ma'a Nonu promoted to the All Blacks yesterday and Auckland captain Sam Tuitupou unavailable because of an infected arm, coaches Ian Foster and Colin Cooper had little option other than to test Brett in an unfamiliar position. The 21-year-old has not played at No 12 for the Canterbury in the Air New Zealand Cup - or during the Super 14 this year - so it will be a significant step up for Brett.

Foster admitted he was vague on Brett's previous experience in midfield. "I haven't asked him if he's played 12 for Canterbury," Foster said.

"I've heard he has, some of his mates say he has, but whether that's to get him in the starting line-up I'm not sure."

However, with Nonu promoted and Tuitupou sidelined, Brett was always an automatic selection outside Stephen Donald.

Chiefs midfielder, Tane Tu'ipolotu, joined the squad at Albany today and is an option later in the Juniors' five-match programme though for now Brett has the opportunity to make the position his own. "It's an experiment but one Colin (Cooper) and I have a bit of faith in," Foster said. "It's something we've done before.

Last year we moved Cameron McIntyre out to 12 and I thought that was pretty successful. "It was our intention to give Stephen a try (at 12). It's just happened to start with game one. "I guess we'll be judged on whether its successful or not but we're confident he has the skill set to play there." Brett will also have plenty of experienced company surrounding him against Samoa with Rico Gear and Scott Hamilton in the three-quarters and Casey Laulala at centre.

Canterbury blindside flanker Kieran Read also makes his first start in a senior New Zealand representative team in a pack containing six former All Blacks. All up, 10 former internationals are included in the starting line-up while four more are on the bench including co-captain Daniel Braid. The 203 World Cup squad member will share the leadership and openside responsibilities and although he has been bracketed with Tu'ipolotu on the bench, he will play if there is a repeat of the mudbath which greeted Samoa and Fiji in last weekend's tournament opener.

Fiji won 8-3, a contest of little value to the Junior All Blacks management. "We didn't see a lot out of last weekend's game but we know it's going to be physical."

Meanwhile, Sione Lauaki continues to make a measured recovery from surgery to both knees and is expected to be available for the Juniors' fourth match against Australia A in Dunedin on June 16. Wing Rudi Wulf (ankle) is also likely to be ready then while hooker Corey Flynn should also come into contention after being granted parental leave. Wellington's Tone Kopelani has replaced Flynn and will start on the bench behind Derren Witcombe.

The Junior All Blacks fly out today and return on Monday to prepare at Albany before heading to Fiji for their second match on June 2 in Suva.

Junior All Blacks: Cory Jane, Rico Gear, Casey Laulala, Stephen Brett, Scott Hamilton, Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan, Mose Tuiali'i, Marty Holah (captain), Kieran Read, Greg Rawlinson, Hoani MacDonald, John Afoa, Derren Witcombe, Clarke Dermody. Reserves: Tone Kopelani, Campbell Johnstone, Ross Filipo, Jerome Kaino, Andrew Ellis, Anthony Tuitavake, Daniel Braid/Tane Tu'ipulotu.