Henry emerges from lab with new creature for Test

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The Independent Online

The last time the All Blacks played a serious Test match, they destroyed the French in Paris with a five-try performance bordering on the sublime.

The last time the All Blacks played a serious Test match, they destroyed the French in Paris with a five-try performance bordering on the sublime.

So what has Graham Henry done with his team for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in Christchurch this weekend? Changed it, comprehensively. If the Lions' coaches were confident of the make-up of the New Zealand team before it was announced yesterday, they quickly discovered the error of their assumptions.

Leon MacDonald - back in the silver-ferned game after a lucrative sojourn in Japan - has beaten Mils Muliaina to the full-back position on the basis of a strong Super 12 series with the Canterbury Crusaders and an exceptional display for the New Zealand Maori, who beat the tourists in Hamilton 10 days ago.

Aaron Mauger, another Canterbury man, displaces Conrad Smith in the centre, Sitiveni Sivivatu plays on the left wing ahead of the out-of-favour Joe Rokocoko and Justin Marshall gets the nod over Byron Kelleher at scrum-half.

Six of the forward pack remain from the game at Stade de France, the exceptions being Norm Maxwell, whose Test career is over, and Anton Oliver, the influential Otago hooker, who has been struggling with a calf injury. As expected, the gangling Aucklander Ali Williams will play at lock, with Keven Mealamu, his provincial colleague, in the middle of the front row.

MacDonald has not played Test rugby since the 2003 World Cup, but Henry - not given to exaggeration - considers his recent form to have been "extraordinary".

With no specific cover for the goal-kicking stand-off Daniel Carter in the squad, his marksmanship skills may well have earned him his promotion over the counter-attacking Muliaina.

"There are a number of players who have been pretty unlucky," Henry said. "Smith, Kelleher, Rico Gear, Jono Gibbes and Greg Somerville, for example. They are playing good football, but we can only start with 15 on the field."

New Zealand (v Lions, First Test, Christchurch, Saturday): L MacDonald; D Howlett, T Umaga (captain), A Mauger, S Sivivatu; D Carter, J Marshall; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, C Hayman, C Jack, A Williams, J Collins, R McCaw, R So'oialo. Replacements: D Witcombe, G Somerville, J Gibbes, S Lauaki, B Kelleher, M Muliaina, R Gear.

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