Rugby: All Blacks Must Persist With What Has Been Proven For Australian Test

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Rugby: All Blacks Must Persist With What Has Been Proven For Australian Test
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Last week we learnt that the All Black selectors would be announcing the 15 men who would start the first test of their end-of-year tour on Thursday, rather than on Tuesday as we have come to expect.

This leaves who will start up for debate, and it still remains rather unclear as to who will take to the paddock in Hong Kong on Saturday night.

It can almost be assumed that the selectors will name their top side for this weekend as this looks to be the toughest game of their five week tour, which will also pit them up against the four home-unions.

The first question that must be answered is: will the coaches persist with the men who got the job done in the Tri-Nations or will they look to include some of the newer and returning players in the team?

To me the answer to that question is obvious.

You don't change a winning team. Why fix what's not broken?

The team during the Tri-Nations was a class above anything we've seen in the rugby world for the past five years with the way they gelled and showed off their skill. Their opponents simply couldn't compete.

It was an All Black side who had it all: forward dominance, great direction at first-five, flair out wide and a rock solid defence that proved difficult at best to break.

To change this would be a step backwards.

The idea of giving Sonny Bill Williams a start in the No. 12 jersey has it's merits, but he is yet to prove himself at test match level and is still far from the player that Ma'a Nonu proved to be. Nonu offered a good mix of speed, strength, distribution, experience and provided that link between Dan Carter and Conrad Smith.

Williams will get his chance, but I would much prefer to see him tested out against the likes of Scotland and Wales rather than against an Australian side who is hungry for a win after 10 consecutive losses to the men in black.

A question mark still remains over whether Daniel Carter will be able to play after his recent ankle surgery, but it appears that he will indeed take the field after having run freely through the team's training session yesterday.

This will please most All Black fans as Carter has proved to be an irreplaceable player over the past years. Although, it seems almost sure that we will see recalled first-five Stephen Donald, at some stage during the game, which will again test the All Blacks depth in the position.

While it may seem good that Carter is back, one must wonder if they are rushing him back too soon just to get him on the field to play Australia. It is almost as though they are scared to play without him given that he is such a crucial part of the team.

A little part of me thinks we should give him a few more weeks to get over this ankle surgery, with the World Cup looming we don't want to see a repeat of his achilles problems from 2007, which ended his World Cup campaign prematurely.

Sitiveni Sivivatu makes a return to the squad but will remain in New Zealand to play for Waikato in the semi-final of the ITM Cup this weekend, so it seems likely that Cory Jane and Joe Rokocoko will fill the two wingers spots, while Mils Muliaina will almost certainly fill the fullback spot.

Jimmy Cowan is largely unchallenged at halfback after the injury of Piri Weepu and will start ahead of Alby Matthewson and Andy Ellis.

The forward pack virtually picks itself, as the squad contains an almost identical group of forwards to that of the Tri-Nations squad. Therefore it can be expected that the loose-forward trio will comprise of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino, all of whom have proved themselves to be the best in their positions in the world this year.

It would seem foolish to select a specialist openside as your reserve loose-forward, so expect to see Liam Messam get the nod over Daniel Braid.

Tom Donnelly and Brad Thorn will be the locks, while Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock will fill the two starting prop roles. Sam Whitelock and Ben Franks will most likely be the reserve lock and prop.

Keven Mealamu will almost certainly be the starting hooker, but it remains unclear as to whether his back-up will be Andrew Hore who returns to the side after a horror injury run, or Hika Elliot, who was picked largely on ITM Cup form, but remains relatively inexperienced at test level.

Personally, I think Elliot would be the better option, Hore has seen very little rugby over the past year and it would be a mistake to throw him straight into the deep end against the world's next best team.

There has been much debate over Isaia Toeava's role on the team. He is another player who has seen such little rugby over the past season and is back in the All Blacks after just two games for Auckland.

He offers great versatility, capable of playing fullback, wing and in the midfield, making him the ideal bench player to have. I don't think he will start based on my theory that you don't change a winning team, but his ability to cover so many positions should see him into the 22.

Potential Starting XV for Australia test:

15. Mils Muliaina
14. Cory Jane
13. Conrad Smith
12. Ma'a Nonu
11. Joe Rokocoko
10. Daniel Carter
9. Jimmy Cowan
8. Kieran Read
7. Richie McCaw
6. Jerome Kaino
5. Tom Donnelly
4. Brad Thorn
3. Owen Franks
2. Keven Mealamu
1. Tony Woodcock

16. Hika Elliot
17. Ben Franks
18. Sam Whitelock
19. Liam Messam
20. Alby Matthewson
21. Stephen Donald
22. Isaia Toeava

That team comprises the 15 men who played the most minutes in their respective positions for the All Blacks during the Tri-Nations, meaning they will be able to pick up where they left off and won't have to try to develop new combinations in their most important test left in 2010.

The bench sees some new faces, but provides cover for every position on the field and contains some players who will add some spark to the game in the second half. With this team named, the Wallabies will be hard pressed to stop the All Blacks picking up their eleventh consecutive win against them on Saturday night. 

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