All Blacks looking to spring a few surprises

NZPA     29 Aug 2006    

The tourists had their first training run in 25degC sunshine at their Sun City base today as they prepare for Sunday's (NZT) Philips Tri Nations Test against the struggling Springboks at nearby Rustenberg.

Coach Graham Henry will confirm his team on early tomorrow, with the possibility of having up to 10 new faces.

There were some intriguing pointers today, including the prospect of Doug Howlett being shifted to fullback with Fijian flyers Sitiveni Sivivatu and Joe Rokocoko on the wings, a first test start for Southland halfback Jimmy Cowan and a rare No 2 jersey for perennial benchman Andrew Hore.

Otherwise it should be close to a full-strength All Blacks pack with top props Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock set to return along with their best loose forward trio of captain Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins and Rodney So'oialo.

Hayman got through training today and, assuming he is cleared by medical staff, will be named in the No 3 jersey after suffering a heavy head knock against the Wallabies a fortnight ago.

The only concern today was the absence of lock Chris Jack from training due to a virus which confined him to bed at their palatial Sun City hotel.

If he recovers, Jack will be named to start, probably alongside Ali Williams.

Second five-eighth Aaron Mauger also trained well and is set to return from a two-week absence with a groin injury as he and pivot Daniel Carter look to spark a talent-laden backline.

Howlett said he would relish the prospect of wearing the black No 15 jersey he last wore in the 2003 Test against England in Wellington.

"There's some great distributors in the 10 and 12 jerseys and the forwards are doing a great job at the moment and really sapping their defences so the holes are opening for us out wide," he said.

"There's some exciting players with a bit of space and a bit of time."

Howlett also played fullback for the Blues in Rebel Sport Super 12 in 2003, with Rokocoko and Rupeni Caucaunibuca on the wings and Rico Gear at centre.

The All Blacks will be warm favourites to continue their unbeaten season on what should be a hard and fast ground at Rustenberg against the Springboks who struggled to keep up in Pretoria.

"It's a challenge but something we've worked on for a long time, that perfect game," Howlett said.

"The coaches always seem to find something not quite right that we can work on, and we're always striving for something more and the next best thing. It's an everlasting goal."

Meanwhile, the Springboks cancelled training today at their Johannesburg base as coach Jake White comes under ever-increasing media pressure.

A loss in Rustenberg will be the team's sixth in a row, just one short of the record losing streak from the team of the mid-1960s.

White admitted today his players were "running on empty" and suffering from fatigue, meaning several changes are likely.

The Pretoria News speculated that if White lost to the All Blacks again then the Wallabies a week later in Johannesburg, his position would be under major threat.

"If South Africa were to lose those games, it would be an extremely serious situation," an unnamed South African Rugby Football Union board member was quoted as saying under the front page headline: "Jake White's future bleak."

"There is concern at the apparent excessive loyalty to certain players and also the apparent lack of a discernible pattern or structure."