Woodward expects stern test from Maori

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The Independent Online

England began preparations for their opening tour game against New Zealand Maori on Monday expecting a ferocious encounter of Test match intensity.

England began preparations for their opening tour game against New Zealand Maori on Monday expecting a ferocious encounter of Test match intensity.

All the players participated in yesterday's first, light training session after the squad's arrival in Wellington, including the winger James Simpson-Daniel, whose fitness was viewed as touch and go before departure. The 22-man party will leave for New Plymouth, a 50-minute flight north of Wellington, on Sunday evening.

The England coach, Clive Woodward, acknowledged the calibre of the Maori opposition, saying: "I watched the game they played against Tonga and they are a tremendous team. They have brilliant players and I'm sure they will step up the intensity even more for Monday night's match.

"We are delighted to have taken on this fixture. It is going to be like a Test match. They have Test match players out there, tremendous players like Christian Cullen and Taine Randell. We are treating it as a Test in terms of intensity. In terms of the way both teams approach it, it will be just like it."

New Zealand's full-back Leon MacDonald has been ruled out of the Test against England a week tomorrow. The Canterbury Crusaders player received a head injury in the Super 12 final against the Auckland Blues two weeks ago.

Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach, has made five changes to the side to face South Africa in Durban, also a week tomorrow. McGeechan, who is to be replaced by the Australian Matt Williams after the World Cup, also made two positional switches in the wake of Scotland's 24-15 defeat by the Barbarians last month.

Kenny Logan, Andy Henderson, the captain Bryan Redpath, Jason White and Andrew Mower are the newcomers, with Chris Paterson switching from stand-off to a wing berth and Gregor Townsend playing stand-off instead of centre. Henderson comes in for James McLaren, who is relegated to the bench, while Gavin Kerr takes the place of the injured Tom Smith at loosehead prop.

Townsend will win his 75th cap, while hooker Gordon Bulloch will be playing for his country for the 50th time.

For South Africa, Rudolf Straeuli has named four uncapped players in a new-look starting XV, including the uncapped Ashwin Willemse, Wikus van Heerden, Hendrik Gerber and Richard Bands.

Two more uncapped players, the utility back Gcobani Bobo and forward Juan Smith, are among the replacements, while Selborne Boome, Robbie Kempson, Cobus Visagie, Louis Koen and Trevor Halstead will all return to the international rugby fold after an absence of a year or longer.

Pedrie Wannenburg, the Bulls loose-forward, is the only survivor from the 22-man squad beaten by Scotland at Murrayfield last year.

Australia and Ireland plan to select experimental sides for Saturday's Lansdowne Cup match. Both teams have been hit by withdrawals, prompting Australia, who will be missing nine regulars, to pick two uncapped players, outside centre Morgan Turinui, and the former rugby league international wing Lote Tuqiri, in their 22-man squad.

The Irish have made six changes to the starting side that beat the Wallabies in Dublin last year, with the fly-half David Humphreys a surprise choice as captain in the absence of Keith Wood and Brian O'Driscoll.

* Australia A scored nine tries during a 63-5 romp over Japan's national XV in a friendly match in Osaka yesterday.

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