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Julian Savea

Nehe Milner-Skudder

Nehe Milner-Skudder

Hurricanes flyer Nehe Milner-Skudder will make his Test debut for the All Blacks in The Rugby Championship decider against the Wallabies.

The All Blacks and Wallabies go head-to-head in Sydney on Saturday, dead-locked at the Top of the table on 9 points each.

The 24-year-old Milner-Skudder will feature on the right wing in 1 of several changes to the All Blacks side which beat the Springboks in Johannesburg in Round 2.

Julian Savea is back on the left wing and will play his 1st Test of 2015, with Ben Smith moving back to fullback.

Sonny Bill Williams is at No 12, while Dan Carter is back at flyhalf for his 105th Test match.

In the run-on forward pack, Jerome Kaino comes in at blindside flank, while Luke Romano comes in at lock.

There are just 2 changes to the bench, with Nepo Laulala providing tighthead prop cover and Sam Cane coming in to cover the loose forwards.

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Kieran Read

Kieran Read

Being taunted by 61 000 fans at Ellis Park (Emirates Airline Park) doesn’t cause Kieran Read much anxiety.

No 8 Read expects the Springboks supporters at Johannesburg to rip into the All Blacks on Saturday (Sunday morning NZ Time), but he gives the impression that they could turn the volume up 10-fold and he still wouldn’t be too fussed.

Read is so in-the-zone during matches that the clatter coming out of the mouths of inhospitable fans doesn’t register as being unfriendly, or otherwise.

“I know the crowd will certainly be baying for our blood,” Read said.

“Once you get on the field, it pretty much becomes WHITE NOISE to be honest, and in some ways they could be screaming for you.

“It’s hard to know exactly what is being said.”

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Malakai Fekitoa

Malakai Fekitoa

Conrad Smith

Conrad Smith

New Zealand All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will have some big selection decisions to make this week, as his team prepares to take on South Africa’s Springboks at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg.

Having rested the bulk of the All Blacks who featured in the all-New Zealand Super Rugby Final (between the Hurricanes and Highlanders) in the 1st 2 Tests of the year, he has to decide how many of them will now be unleashed on the Springboks.

Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Victor Vito and James Broadhurst are all keen to get a run against Springboks in their Rugby Championship outing on Saturday.

Probably the most interesting selection would be what combination he chooses to oppose South Africa’s exciting new midfield pairing of Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende.

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Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen

The decision of All Blacks flyhalf Colin Slade to head to Europe after the World Cup has made coach Steven Hansen very aware that the exodus of New Zealand players is not yet over.

Slade is the 10th All Black so far to announce he is heading offshore at the end of the year, to join French club Pau.

Still to confirm their post-World Cup futures are Julian Savea, Sam Cane and Ryan Crotty and, coupled with expected retirements and the impact of the Olympics, coach Steve Hansen is bracing for a difficult 12 months following the World Cup in England.

Cashed-up European clubs, who once targeted players in the twilight of their careers, assisting the All Blacks into an easy rollover of talent, are now creating a talent drain by luring up-and-coming stars.

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HurricanesThe Hurricanes could not have asked for a better start to the Super Rugby season, managing 6 wins from as many outings. They are in pole position on the combined standings and are expecting to improve even more as their rested players return.

“The boys are enjoying themselves because winning is way better than losing,” Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree told the NZME.

“But every week there’s something to fix and every week’s not perfect and we are looking to improve the whole time.”

Their defence has been the cornerstone of their success, with only 82 points being scored against them so far, 2nd to the Brumbies who have conceded a mere 80.

Their next challenge comes in the form of the Stormers who were beaten 39 / 21 by the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday. However Plumtree acknowledges the physical threat posed by the Cape outfit, boosted by their very own return of some key players.

“They’ll be hurting after what happened last week,” Plumtree said. “So we’ll be expecting them to respond pretty positively in terms of intensity.”

The Stormers may welcome back a couple of players, namely Duane Vermeulen, and Plumtree said they would bring the physicality associated with any South African team.

“We’ll have to really step up in the pack.”

The Hurricanes rested a number of All Blacks – Beauden Barrett, Ben Franks and Julian Savea – for last week’s game with the Melbourne Rebels but they will likely return this week. Hooker Dane Coles (elbow) also missed the win over the Rebels but is fit again.

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Duane Vermeulen and Brodie Retallick - Brodie beat Duane and the other nominees as Player Of The Year 2014, after a monsterous season by the big brute of a lock.

Duane Vermeulen and Brodie Retallick – Brodie beat Duane and the other nominees as Player Of The Year 2014, after a monsterous season by the big brute of a lock.

Brodie Retallick becomes the fourth New Zealander to be named World Rugby Player of the Year, while the All Blacks and Steve Hansen also win awards.

New Zealand second row Brodie Retallick has been named the World Rugby Player of the Year 2014 by an independent panel, the fourth player from his country to win the prestigious award.The 23-year-old has enjoyed a fantastic year in the middle of the All Blacks’ pack and follows in the footsteps of teammates Kieran Read (2013), Dan Carter (2005 and 2012) and Richie McCaw (2006, 2009 and 2010).

He edged out Willie le Roux (South Africa), Julian Savea (New Zealand), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) and Duane Vermeulen (South Africa) for the award in a closely fought contest during a year of spectacular performances on the international stage.

The accolade completes a hat-trick of awards for New Zealand, as the All Blacks were named World Rugby Team of the Year 2014 for the eighth time and Steve Hansen the World Rugby Coach of the Year 2014 for the third year in succession.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

Willie le Roux

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux and No 8 Duane Vermeulen on Wednesday were named among five candidates for the IRB World Rugby Player of the year.

The other nominees were Irish flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick and wing Julian Savea. The winner will be revealed at his team’s final match of the season.

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Julian Savea and Jonah Lomu

Julian Savea and Jonah Lomu

In most cases, comparing a young player with a legend of the game is to burden him with unfair expectation.

To say Julian Savea is the new Jonah Lomu is definitely unfair. Unfair because it is selling Savea short. The 24-year-old wing may already have surpassed Lomu, according to All Black coach Steve Hansen.

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Israel Dagg

FULL GALLOP: All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg finds clear air during their 34-13 win over Argentina to clinch the Rugby Championship for 2014.

Launching pads don’t get much better. With the pressure now off, the All Blacks board a flight to Johannesburg today with strut, swagger and no inhibitions.

Yesterday’s four-try 34-13 win over the Pumas clinched a third successive Rugby Championship title but, more importantly, saw the All Blacks regain their attacking groove.

After two weeks battling New Zealand rain they threw off the shackles in La Plata and now have the freedom to craft a gameplan without worrying about any tournament permutations.

To further enhance their 22-test unbeaten run they will be intent on harnessing that flamboyance for a blockbuster clash of styles rematch with the Springboks.

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The past few years has seen Rugby’s world be dominated by one group of Villains that we have come to respect, hate, admire, deride, sledge and applaud. Let’s take a look at these Bad Guys and their alter-egos – whilst not forgetting that most of these guys eventually get their comeuppance. – Enjoy!

 

15. Ben Smith -Keyser Soze – The usual Suspects
Keyser Soze

Keyser Soze – The Usual Suspects

This is one of those moments where we are lulled into a false sense of security. The guy looks harmless enough and seems to melt into the background when surrounded by other more unsavory types. But it is with the Big reveal that things unfold and the manipulator truly emerges.

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Julian Savea

Julian Savea

New ZealandWing Julian Savea returns to the New Zealand side for Saturday’s second test against England in Dunedin after fullback Israel Dagg was ruled out through injury.

Savea, who has scored 19 tries in 20 matches for the world champion All Blacks, missed the 20-15 first test victory with a knee complaint, but should add extra firepower to the backline after a sluggish performance in Auckland.

Ben Smith moves to fullback from the wing in Dagg’s absence.

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