Task doesn't get much bigger for Rawlinson

NZPA     24 Aug 2006

A Test against his former countrymen at one of the most hostile environments in world rugby, opposing one of the game's premier lineout exponents, Victor Matfield.

But the All Blacks coaches insist the 2m, 114kg Rawlinson, born in Durban 28 years ago, has the ability to cope after being confirmed as one of 11 changes to the starting lineup for Sunday's (NZT) Test against the Springboks.

Coach Graham Henry has wheeled out seven fresh forwards from the bruising 34-27 win over Australia on Saturday, with captain Richie McCaw the only survivor in the pack after being passed "100 percent fit" by medical staff yesterday.

Rawlinson partners his Blues Rebel Sport Super 14 teammate Ali Williams in a new tight five tasked with continuing the All Blacks' scrum dominance of 2006 and, in combination with hooker Anton Oliver, snaffling their share of lineout ball against opponents who delight in spoiling.

Henry expected Rawlinson, who shifted to New Zealand in 2002 and made his Test debut against Ireland in June, to be put through the wringer but come out the other side in good shape.

"He knows a lot of the guys personally and I'm sure there's a lot of respect both ways. What more would you want as an international rugby player?" Henry said.

"I'm sure they won't offer him a free passage and he'll know that -- it's natural when you play your own people that you'll find it an extra challenge."

Having played for the Durban-based Sharks, Rawlinson at least knows what it's like for an outsider to step into the cauldron of Loftus Versfeld.

"He's very excited since the team's been named -- he's had a smile on his face as wide as the Grand Canyon," forwards coach Steve Hansen said.

"Having been through the Wales thing myself (as coach) I know it'll be a little bit emotional for him but it's a matter of using those emotions to work for him rather than against him.

"He's got a good head on his shoulders and I'm sure he'll do that."

The loose forwards also contain a new combination of Reuben Thorne on the blindside and Chris Masoe -- the designated backup for McCaw and Rodney So'oialo -- given a chance at No 8.

In the backs, first five-eighth Daniel Carter, second five-eighth Luke McAlister and centre Mils Muliaina are the only survivors from last Saturday, with Muliaina returning to centre and handing back the fullback's jersey to Leon MacDonald.

Left wing Sitiveni Sivivatu returns for his first test since the November tour of Europe after a slow return from a series of leg injuries.

Henry said the team selection was a no-brainer as the demands of playing two tests within a week increase.

"We're coming off a game on Saturday and playing the following weekend at high altitude in South Africa and that's one of the reasons why you make a number of changes.

"It's very difficult for players to get up, travel for 18 hours and get ready to play another test in seven days time."

If things go awry there is at least a powerful cavalry on the bench, including hooker Keven Mealamu, prop Tony Woodcock, lock Chris Jack and flanker Jerry Collins.

While Henry has given his deck a decent shuffle he wasn't gung-ho enough to rest his two trump cards, McCaw and Carter.

McCaw will start his fifth consecutive test despite suffering a suspected broken nose from a Phil Waugh swinging arm and a sore neck from a Lote Tuqiri spear tackle.

"Obviously Richie had his challenges at the weekend. But he's come through 100 percent, he's talked to the medical staff and they've given him a full clearance," Henry said.

"I think Richie's targeted in most games he plays so I don't think there's anything different this weekend. The advantage is if they do target him then it gives us opportunities."

Springboks coach Jake White names his team late tonight (NZT).

New Zealand: Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Mils Muliaina, Luke McAlister, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu, Chris Masoe, Richie McCaw (captain), Reuben Thorne, Ali Williams, Greg Rawlinson, Greg Somerville, Anton Oliver, Neemia Tialata. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Chris Jack, Jerry Collins, Jimmy Cowan, Sam Tuitupou, Isaia Toeava.