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All Blacks Squad To Play Australia

9 Jul 2002

The All Blacks’ selectors have made 10 personnel changes and one positional change to their side for Saturday’s opening match in the Bledisloe Cup and Philips Tri-Nations Series, from the side that beat Fiji.

Fullback Christian Cullen, winger Doug Howlett and five eighths Aaron Mauger are the only surviving backs that will take on Australia, with Mauger reverting to second five-eighths to make room for the return of Andrew Mehrtens.
Skipper Reuben Thorne and lock Norm Maxwell are the sole survivors in a forward pack that is made up totally by players from the Telecom Super 12 champion Crusaders side.

Thirteen of the starting XV for the Test in Christchurch hail from the Crusaders with a further two, fullback Ben Blair and utility back Daryl Gibson, on the bench.
Blair, who was named as injury cover in New Zealand’s Tri-Nations squad of 26 last Friday, has been included in the match 22 for Leon MacDonald who remains on the sideline after sustaining a heavy blow to the head against Fiji.

Blair scored 38 points on debut for New Zealand against Ireland A at Belfast last year and made his Test debut later on last year’s end of season tour against Scotland at Edinburgh. He has now played two Tests. Mehrtens will play his 60th Test match edging him one ahead of Jonah Lomu as the most capped player in the All Blacks squad. Lomu has been left out of the squad for this match.

Even in his absence the All Blacks still have three players in the backline who boast more than a half-century of caps. Halfback Justin Marshall will be playing his 57th Test while Cullen will be featuring in his 55th.

The New Zealand side features the country’s most prolific point-scorer in Tests against Australia in Mehrtens, who has 178 points, while Cullen is tied with former legendary loose forward Ian Kirkpatrick as New Zealand’s leading Test try-scorer against Australia with eight.
New Zealand last played Australia at Jade Stadium in 1998 when Australia prevailed 27-23. Cullen, Mehrtens, Marshall, Taine Randell and Scott Robertson are the All Blacks’ sole survivors from that match.

Just five of the side who started New Zealand’s most recent Test against Australia at Sydney last year, which the Wallabies won 29-26, remain in the run on side.
Australia has won seven of the last nine Bledisloe Cup internationals dating back to 1998 and the enormity of the challenge awaiting the All Blacks is highlighted by the record of the current squad in matches against Australia.

Of the players named for the game, Cullen is the only player who has beaten Australia more times than he has lost, with seven wins from 13 matches.

The All Blacks team to play Australia in the opening Test of the Philips Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup Series is:

Christian Cullen (Wellington), Doug Howlett (Auckland), Mark Robinson (Canterbury), Aaron Mauger (Canterbury, vice captain), Caleb Ralph (Canterbury), Andrew Mehrtens (Canterbury), Justin Marshall (Canterbury), Scott Robertson (Canterbury), Richard McCaw (Canterbury), Reuben Thorne (Canterbury, captain), Norm Maxwell (Canterbury), Chris Jack (Canterbury), Greg Somerville (Canterbury), Mark Hammett (Canterbury, vice captain), Dave Hewett (Canterbury).
Reserves: Tom Willis (Otago), Joe McDonnell (Otago), Simon Maling (Otago), Taine Randell (Otago), Byron Kelleher (Otago), Daryl Gibson (Canterbury), Ben Blair (Canterbury).


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