Joe Rokocoko’s return to international rugby provides a tantalising match-up with former provincial teammate and All Blacks wing rival Doug Howlett when New Zealand mark the 30th anniversary of their famous loss to Munster in Limerick on Tuesday.
Rokocoko, who made his test comeback from a 13-month lay-off against Scotland on November 8 before backing up to play in last night’s 22-6 defeat of Ireland, is the only member of the All Blacks starting line-up from Croke Park to run on in the tourists’ one-off midweek match.
But eight other players who helped protect the All Blacks’ unbeaten test record against the Irish will also feature in some capacity.
Piri Weepu, who becomes the All Blacks 64th captain, starts at halfback inside Daniel Carter’s understudy Stephen Donald.
Isaia Toeava runs on at second five-eighth and Corey Flynn starts at hooker for the first time on tour as Keven Mealamu is understandably rested.
Tighthead prop John Afoa and looseforward Kieran Read, who both came on in the final quarter last night, are again included on the bench alongside two first choice selections — lock Brad Thorn and fullback Mils Muliaina.
Thorn’s thirst for work is undiminished while Muliaina will see more game time after making an impressive tour debut last night after belatedly joining the tour party.
The match designed to commemorate Munster’s 12-0 defeat of Graham Mourie’s Grand Slam winners in 1978 was also always intended to give uncapped players an opportunity to start their international careers.
Subsequently Taranaki openside flanker Scott Waldrom and Canterbury tighthead prop Ben Franks have been awarded their first All Black jersies while Hawke’s Bay hooker Hikawera Elliot and Wellington halfback Alby Mathewson — both summoned as replacements for injured players — will also represent the team for the first time.
The match is also significant for Taranaki lock Jason Eaton, a 10-test second rower who last played for New Zealand in the victory over France in Paris on the 2006 end-of-year tour.
He needed a knee reconstruction after the 2007 Super 14 campaign with the Hurricanes, finally making his comeback in this year’s tournament before regaining form in the Air NZ Cup.
Howlett, who joined the reigning Heineken Cup champions after last year’s failed World Cup campaign, is one of three Munster backs with a New Zealand connection.
Former New Zealand Maori captain Rua Tipoki is expected to start at second five-eighth while former Taranaki centre Lifeimi Mafi is in line to join Tipoki in midfield to combat Toeava and Anthony Tuitavake.
The match, also officially reopening a redeveloped Thomond Park, is a 26,000-seat sell out despite the fact both sides will be lacking star quality.