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Spencer dropped for Mehrtens as Blacks make three changes

Spencer dropped for Mehrtens as Blacks make three changes

Graham Henry has dropped Carlos Spencer and Ali Williams, while Daniel Carter misses South Africa clash through injury.

Graham Henry has bitten quite a high calibre bullet in naming the All Black side for Saturday’s Tri Nations clash against South Africa.

Out goes Carlos Spencer, the incumbent outhalf for the past two seasons and a man revered by many as one of the most talented rugby players in the world. Most often described as ‘mercurial’, Spencer is one of those players who divides the public into those that see him as a genius and those that see him as reckless and error prone.

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Nonetheless, this completes a remarkable comeback for Mehrtens, about whom backs coach Wayne Smith said, He came on in the Super 12 final, he came on in the trial and he came on against England. And in each of those cameos he was really effective, and forced our hand. I don’t think he can believe it himself. At one point earlier this season, Mehrtens couldn’t make the Canterbury lineup. Mehrtens, New Zealand’s record points scorer, will be playing his first Tri Nations match since Durban in 2002.

Spencer doesn’t even have the consolation of a place on the bench, as Henry considers that there is sufficient cover in Aaron Mauger for the position.

Many New Zealanders will feel that Spencer is carrying the can for a poor general performance by the Blacks on Saturday, and Henry’s insistence on playing a flat backline. New Zealand have only scored two tries in three Tri Nations fixtures despite the wealth of talent contained within that back division. However, he had a poor match generally against Australia and it was no surprise when he was hauled ashore to be replaced by Mehrtens.

Out also goes Ali Williams, the second row who has been in and out over the past year or two. We thought Ali Williams had an opportunity on Saturday and didn’t take it, coach Graham Henry said. He had a better second half than first half; we thought Simon Maling’s maturity in this game may be helpful.

One can’t help but feel that De Wet Barry, the hard-tackling Springbok centre, will feel that he’s been given a target with the announcement that Sam Tuitupou will be starting in place of the injured Daniel Carter, who hasn’t recovered from an ankle injury. Tuitupou had a fine game when he came on as a replacement against Australia and was statistically New Zealand’s most effective player in terms of the gain line. However, he picked up a broken rib moments after taking the field. Hardy man.

Henry sticks with Carl Hayman at tighthead, despite having played the shorter Greg Somerville for tactical reasons against the gigantic Os du Randt last time out. The thinking was that Somerville would be able to get under du Randt (much as Paul Wallace did for the Lions in ’97). However, Henry said that Hayman had earned his selection, describing him as ‘one of the plusses of the new guys coming in’.

New Zealand team

1. Kees Meeuws, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Carl Hayman, 4. Chris Jack, 5. Simon Maling, 6. Jono Gibbes, 7. Marty Holah, 8. Xavier Rush, 9. Justin Marshall, 10. Andrew Mehrtens, 11. Joe Rokocoko, 12. Sam Tuitupoa, 13. Tana Umaga (Captain), 14. Doug Howlett, 15. Mils Muliaina.
16. Andrew Hore, 17. Greg Somerville, 18. Mose Tuiali’I, 19. Craig Newby, 20. Byron Kelleher, 21. Nick Evans, 22. Aaron Mauger.