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All Blacks Make Four Changes


The All Blacks' selectors have made four changes to their squad for Saturday night's Test against Fiji in the Philips International Series.

Fullback Christian Cullen, centre Tana Umaga, loose forward Taine Randell and tighthead prop Kees Meeuws have all been recalled. Cullen appeared in club rugby for Northern United last weekend while the other three had a strong workout for the New Zealand Barbarians club during its 37-22 win over New Zealand Maori last Friday.

Otago flanker Sam Harding has also been included in an enlarged squad of 23 players that will assemble in Wellington tomorrow to prepare for the game. Harding, who was not a member of the initial All Black squad for series one of the international season, has been bracketed alongside Waikato flanker Marty Holah.

Holah strained a medial ligament in his leg after coming off the bench during New Zealand's 40-8 win over Ireland last weekend.

All Blacks coach John Mitchell said Holah's recovery was being closely monitored but it was too soon to say whether he would be fit for the upcoming assignment at estpacTrust Stadium. "We'll see how he is tomorrow when we get together in Wellington," Mitchell said. If Holah is not deemed fit enough to play the Test, he will return home and Harding will be included.

Canterbury flanker Richard McCaw, who appeared in New Zealand's twin Test victories against Ireland, has been released from duty for this weekend. "McCaw has had a fairly heavy work load this year and we felt that this was an opportune time to give him a bit of a break," Mitchell explained. "Harding is a player who has impressed us playing for both Otago and the Highlanders. This is a good opportunity to bring him into our environment."

The All Blacks' starting line-up for the Test will be named tomorrow but Mitchell did not rule out delaying a decision on Holah to allow him more time to recover. Winger Caleb Ralph, centre Mark Robinson and prop Greg Somerville are the other players who have been cut from the squad for the match against the Pacific Island side.
The trio have featured in at least two of the three Tests played by the All Blacks so far this season.

Umaga, Randell and Meeuws, who have each appeared in one Test so far this season, have been given another opportunity to show their form prior to the selection of the All Blacks' squad for the Philips Tri-Nations series. The 26-man squad for that series will be named next week. "We've said all along that there are no certainties in selection and that we intended to utilise all of the resources that are available to us," Mitchell said.

Fiji has won two of its three matches so far this year under its new coach, former Blues assistant and Counties Manukau coach Mac McCallion. While the makeup of the current side is an unknown to the All Blacks, Mitchell recalled the 1999 Rugby World Cup where the free spirited Fijians gave England the run around during an elimination match at Twickenham before they were finally defeated 45-24. "Every opponent must be respected and we certainly aren't taking Fiji for granted," he warned.
"Playing a side like Fiji is an exciting prospect. They present a very different challenge to that posed by sides like Italy and Ireland because teams from the Pacific Islands traditionally play in an uncomplicated manner.

"Their unpredictability beyond set phase can make them a handful especially if they get a bit of momentum and are able to regularly off-load."

The All Blacks' squad for the Philips International Series Test against Fiji at Wellington on Saturday is: Leon MacDonald, Christian Cullen, Doug Howlett, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, Daryl Gibson, Aaron Mauger, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Byron Kelleher, Scott Robertson, Taine Randell, Marty Holah or Sam Harding, Reuben Thorne (captain), Norm Maxwell, Chris Jack, Simon Maling, Kees Meeuws, Dave Hewett, Joe McDonnell, Tom Willis, Mark Hammett.

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