Dagg usurps Muliaina for All Blacks' opener

Updated: 2011-09-08 07:58

(China Daily)

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Dagg usurps Muliaina for All Blacks' opener

New Zealand All Black players Jimmy Cowan (left), Israel Dagg (center) and Ma'a Nonu pose for a photo with the city skyline in the background after the team announcement, in Auckland, on Wednesday. The All Blacks are preparing for the Rugby World Cup to be played Sept 9 to Oct 23. [Photo/Agencies]

Henry names young guns in backline; Kahui, Toeava on wings, Williams to start at inside center

Reliable experience was axed for youthful flair on Wednesday when New Zealand coach Graham Henry selected Israel Dagg at fullback in place of Mils Muliaina for the All Blacks' rugby World Cup opener against Tonga.

Whether or not to select the 31-year-old Muliaina, who has played 98 times for the All Blacks, for Friday's opening Pool A clash at Eden Park had been the chief talking point in New Zealand this week and Henry opted to go with the Hawke's Bay fullback despite his lack of matches.

"He (Muliaina) has been one of the top fullbacks in the world for some time, having a bit of a flat patch at the moment but knowing Mils he will respond to that," coach Graham Henry said at the team's hotel in central Auckland.

"Mils has played 98-tests and played outstanding rugby for the All Blacks for a long, long period of time.

"He understands it is a competitive position. The other fellow in his one-test this year has played well and he knows the situation very clearly," Henry said of Muliaina who did not make the replacements bench.

Dagg had been tipped to replace Muliaina after a superb return to top-class rugby against South Africa in Port Elizabeth last month following a serious quadriceps injury.

"Israel has done something remarkable, he has overcome a major leg injury to play in South Africa. Quite frankly, the selectors didn't think he would make it," Henry said.

"We have a huge amount of respect for the boy and what he has done (against South Africa).

"But that was a one-off and he knows he is up for potential selection in the top team so that puts extra pressure (on him). He is obviously talented but inexperienced."

Dagg usurps Muliaina for All Blacks' opener

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw runs away from Keven Mealamu (L) during team training at Trusts Stadium in Auckland in preparation for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Sept 5, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

Big midfield

Utility backs Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava have been named on the wings, while Ma'a Nonu shifts to center to allow Sonny Bill Williams to play inside center in a huge backline to combat the physical Tongans.

"We have a big midfield against a big midfield," Henry said before adding that Williams had been selected not only for the obvious physicality he brings.

"The reason for the selection was to give Sonny Bill an opportunity and he has got that and we don't know what is going to happen later in the tournament (with injuries)," implying center Conrad Smith, who is not in the 22, will return.

Captain Richie McCaw will earn his 99th Test cap at Eden Park and move ahead of Muliaina in the race to be the first All Blacks' player to achieve the 100-Test milestone.

Wellington loose forward Victor Vito will start at No 8 for the injured Kieran Read, who was still wearing a protective boot on his left foot but walking without crutches on Wednesday after he picked up a high ankle strain against the Wallabies in the final Tri-Nations match last month.

Jerome Kaino returns to the starting lineup after he missed the match against Australia in Brisbane to return home to be with his pregnant partner.

Tony Woodcock will start at loosehead prop, despite aggravating an old hamstring injury at training this week and being a doubt as late as Tuesday when assistant coach Steve Hansen said the prop was a concern.

Regular hooker Keven Mealamu has also been left out of the match-day 22 with Andrew Hore assuming the starting role and Corey Flynn moving on to the bench.

Henry said he planned to retain the bulk of the side throughout the matches in the tournament after chopping and changing four years ago as the All Blacks lost in the quarterfinals to France.

"What we are trying to do is play a nucleus of players pretty often," Henry said.

"Most of it is pretty solid and there is competition for three or four positions," said Henry, highlighting the back three, centers and scrumhalf positions as conundrums.

Locks Anthony Boric and Sam Whitelock have also been named on the bench with Whitelock expected to provide loose forward cover in the absence of injured duo Read and Adam Thomson.

Team: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Richard Kahui, 13-Ma'a Nonu, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Isaia Toeava, 10-Daniel Carter, 9-Jimmy Cowan, 8-Victor Vito, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Jerome Kaino, 5-Ali Williams, 4-Brad Thorn, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Andrew Hore, 1-Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16-Corey Flynn, 17-Ben Franks, 18-Anthony Boric, 19-Sam Whitelock, 20-Piri Weepu, 21-Colin Slade, 22-Cory Jane.