Rugby Union: NZ drop Joseph for tour finale

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HEAVEN forbid that Jamie Joseph's exclusion from the New Zealand team to play the Barbarians tomorrow at Cardiff Arms Park had anything to do with that naughty piece of footwork on Kyran Bracken's ankle.

The heart-throb England scrum- half made it on to The Big Breakfast despite the pain that followed the pleasure of England's Test win. Joseph has not made it into the All Blacks' tour finale, we are told, purely on the grounds of form.

In the team named yesterday, he had been replaced as blind-side flanker by the deserving Blair Larsen. Lee Stensness replaces Eroni Clarke in the inside-centre position that was successfully occupied by Matthew Cooper until the All Black kicker was injured.

'The team was chosen on merit,' Neil Gray, the New Zealand manager, said, commenting on selection for the first time in seven weeks. 'What has happened to him (Joseph) has been an in-house decision and it's going to stay there and it has been administered. The management are comfortable with what has happened . . . It's not a whitewash.'

Whether the in-house punishment is having to carry the bags for three days or perhaps doing without Steinlager, what will really hurt Joseph is to be dropped. Larsen came on the tour as a second-row replacement for the injured Robin Brooke but excelled against England A and South of Scotland at blind side.

After impressing in the deciding third Test against the Lions in July, Stensness has disappointed on tour - first because of injury and then loss of confidence - though the perfect science of hindsight shows he would have been a better bet than Clarke against England.

Meanwhile, the Barbarians have kept it in the family by elevating Scott Hastings to the captaincy after the withdrawal of Gavin, his elder brother, because of a hand injury. Scott led the Baa-Baas when they played at Exeter in September. The vacancy on the bench left by Anthony Clement's promotion into the team in Gavin's place has been filled by a South African, the Western Province centre Christiaan Scholtz.

NEW ZEALAND (v Barbarians, Cardiff, tomorrow): J Timu; J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), L Stensness, V Tuigamala (Auckland); M Ellis, S Forster (Otago); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown (Auckland), S Gordon (Waikato), I Jones (North Auckland), B Larsen (North Harbour), A Pene (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland). Replacements: S Howarth (Auckland), S Bachop (Otago), J Preston (Wellington), M Brewer (Canterbury), M Allen (Taranaki), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay).

Mains remains positive, page 42