Oliver to scrum down against Boks

All Black coach Graham Henry has dropped a mini bombshell by naming Anton Oliver at hooker in the team to face the Springboks in a Tri-Nations match on Saturday, making it obvious he is set to target the Bok scrum in Durban.

Henry on Monday named a team that shows nine changes from that which thrashed Canada 64-13 at the weekend, but it is the selection of his front row that will raise the eyebrows.

The combination of Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore and John Schwalger makes way for the far more experienced and streetwise trio of Carl Hayman, Oliver and Tony Woodcock.

He has Kevin Mealamu and Tialata as cover on the bench, but the decision to start with Oliver ahead of the more mobile and energetic Mealamu in the number two jersey leaves no doubt as to what aspect of the Bok game the Kiwis plan to target.

The Bok scrum have been rickety in all their mid-year Tests and last Saturday’s fortuitous 22-19 win over the Wallabies. In all those games the South Africans were penalised regularly, while they also failed to get the expected front row dominance.

There is no doubt that the likes of Hayman, Oliver and Woodcock will provide the biggest challenge the Boks have faced in the scrums this year.

Henry said the decision to start with Oliver ahead of Mealamu is because the former is better suited to the type of game he plans to play against the Boks.

“We felt Oliver was the better man for the job, he’s got the experience,” Henry said.

Apart from the change of the entire front row Henry has also reshuffled his loose forwards.

Rodney So’oialo is back at number eight in place of Jerry Collins, who moves to the blindside flank – with Reuben Thorne dropping out of the matchday 22 altogether. Richie McCaw returns as openside flank in place of Chris Masoe and also takes over the captaincy.

Greg Rawlinson partners Troy Flavell at lock this week and Ross Filipo drops down to the bench.

While the Boks are expected to have the edge in the line-outs – especially considering the large number of second row injuries in the Kiwi camp – Henry is confident that they will be up for the challenge.

Already the All Blacks have lost locks James Ryan, Keith Robinson, Ali Williams and Jason Eaton to injury, whilst Chris Jack has joined winger Doug Howlett on paternity leave and they will not be making the trip to South Africa to face the Springboks on Saturday.

Now it is up to South African-born Greg Rawlinson and Troy Flavell to face up to the Boks’ tall timber.

“Victor [Matfield] and Bakkies [Botha] working well in the line-outs and we will have to execute our line-outs very well,” the All Black mentor said.

He described his available locks as “players of equal ability” and said they will all need to lift their game.

In the backline Henry brought back Joe Rokocoko for Doug Howlett on the right wing and Isa Toeava for Luke McAlister at outside centre.

Henry described the team selection as a very “difficult” decision to make.

“We have a lot of competition for positions,” Henry “And this was a tough team to select.”

The All Blacks arrived in Durban only on Monday, approximately 48 hours after their Test against Canada at the weekend.

“It is difficult to travel to South Africa from New Zealand, it is always a challenge for the All Blacks and our Super 14 teams,” said Henry.

“So we have to get our preparation right in the next few days.”

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Isa Toeava, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Greg Rawlinson, 4 Troy Flavell, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Kevin Mealamu, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Ross Filipo, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 McAlister, 22 Leon McDonald

Date: Saturday, 23 June

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