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Five changes for New Zealand


Piri Weepu

Piri Weepu

Piri Weepu

New Zealand have made five changes to their starting XV for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia.

Aaron Cruden's first Test start at first five-eighths coincides with Piri Weepu's elevation ahead of Jimmy Cowan at half-back. The halves combination, together with midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, plus right wing Cory Jane, means there are five Hurricanes in the seven-man backline.

Hawke's Bay prodigy Israel Dagg gets a chance to impress on the left wing in Sydney, with Joe Rokocoko dropping out of the 22-man squad.

In the pack, blindside flanker Victor Vito earns a start, which pushes Jerome Kaino to the bench, and Owen Franks regains his number three jersey, while Anthony Boric could see some rare game-time after being preferred to Sam Whitelock as the third lock.

Canterbury pivot Colin Slade is in line to make his Test debut off the bench, and Northland's Rene Ranger has also been included among the replacements as outside back cover.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said his men were expecting a strong challenge from the Wallabies, who would take confidence from their win over the Springboks in Bloemfontein.

"The Wallabies will be up for a big game coming off the back of a good away win and playing in front of their home crowd in Sydney, so they will come out firing," Henry said.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will lead the side for the 52nd time in Tests, which moves him past Sean Fitzpatrick as the most capped Test skipper in All Blacks history.

Henry paid tribute to his captain on his durability and excellence as well as his attitude, which has seen him grow and develop as the team's leader. He said: "Richie is an outstanding leader and, in my opinion, one of the best players in world rugby and he also is an exemplary ambassador off the field, so we are very fortunate to have him out in front of this team every week."

The New Zealand team is: Mils Muliaina; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Israel Dagg; Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Victor Vito, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Jerome Kaino, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Slade, Rene Ranger.

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