Right in the middle of the All Black jersey debacle, Graham Henry has called his first fifteen for the mouthwatering France V New Zealand clash at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. In there are a few selections I’m not so sure about…
For me the jury is still out on Luke McAlister. He has impact for sure (in a Carlos Spencer type way) but has he got the brain to think tactically on his feet when things are going belly up. Mauger although not so hot on defence, does offer a tactical aspect as well as something else invaluable to the All Black backline: support to Dan Carter which perhaps the 23 year old McAlister is not so au fait with yet. Considering also that this will be the biggest game of McAlister’s life, questions remain whether he has the temperament to match the occasion. I hope so but we will have to wait and see.
Other calls that raised a few eyebrows were the omission of Doug Howlett for Sitiveni ‘butterfingers’ Sivivatu; Mils Muliaina at centre plus Keith Robinson on for Chris Jack. Sivivatu has done himself no favours in his last few outings for the All Blacks with messy distribution and his own personal eye off the ball managing almost singlehandedly to up the All Black error rate to grandiose proportions (ok that's an exaggeration - but I just don't like the guy damn it). I’m surprised he is in the 22 at all as I don’t think he has either warranted his position or has the big match temperament to take it to the French. I hope he proves me wrong.
Muliaina is best at full back and with Les Bleus by the looks of things, planning to play a kicking game deep into the All Black 22 he would have been the safest man for the job. Instead we have McDonald who although is in excellent form, may not be the most reliable when it comes to the up and unders or covering tackles in the pressure cooker moments.
Keith Robinson is abrasive and probably a good starter. That is if he manages to make it through the warm ups (around about an 80% possibility that he won’t). Still, who am I to complain? I’m not Graham Henry (thankfully) so I’ll leave it to them and hope for the best. For a run down of the perceived French strength and weaknesses check out Jonny’s excellent review on Scrumbag.
New Zealand team
L MacDonald; J Rokocoko, M Muliaina, L McAlister, S Sivavutu; D Carter, B Kelleher; T Woodcock, A Oliver, C Hayman, K Robinson, A Williams, J Collins, R McCaw (capt), R So'oialo. Reps: K Mealamu, N Tialata, C Jack, C Masoe, B Leonard, N Evans, I Toeava.