The ability of returning All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo to quickly get back up to speed is likely to influence the margin of victory against Georgia, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has again made a number of changes to the New Zealand team for this clash, but it’s the comeback of Naholo – after making a quite miraculous recovery from a broken leg – that will understandably dominate the headlines.
Hansen has said that the Fijian-born flyer has been ‘jumping out of his skin at training’, but it’s likely to take some time before he’s back to his best.
There is simply no way the All Blacks will have too much trouble overcoming Georgia, but if Naholo surprises yet again by making an immediate impact on his return, the minnows could be in for a miserable night at the Millennium Stadium on Friday.
Naholo’s reintegration is not only important in the context of this match, but in fact more so for the All Blacks during the remainder of the tournament.
Nehe Milner-Skudder was impressive in the All Blacks’ last game against Namibia, so Naholo certainly can’t afford to display too many signs of rustiness.
It could be a healthy selection headache for Hansen going forward, as it will be if Sonny Bill Williams produces another standout performance on Friday.
Williams has been very impressive at this tournament, making a massive impact off the bench in the All Blacks’ first game, and then once again displaying some lovely touches against Namibia last Thursday.
It would take a brave man to pick him ahead of a fit Ma’a Nonu, but it should be another point of interest as Williams once again lines up with Conrad Smith.
The All Blacks have been in cruise mode for the most part at this World Cup, but they’ll now be looking to up the ante even further in what is their penultimate pool game.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first Test meeting
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 TJ Perenara, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Georgia – 15 Beka Tsiklauri, 14 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 13 David Kacharava, 12 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 11 Alexandr Todua, 10 Lasha Malaguradze, 9 Giorgi Begadze, 8 Lasha Lomidze, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze (c), 6 Shalva Sutiashvili, 5 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 4 levan Datunashvili, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Shalva Mamukashvili, 1 Karlen Asieshvili.
Subs: 16 Simon Maisuradze, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Konstantine Mikautadze, 20 Viktor Kolelishvili, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Merab Sharikadze, 23 Murazi Giorgadze.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP Photo