24 Aug 2009

Mouth-watering Shield prospect with added ABs spice

7:04 pm on 24 August 2009

The return of most of the All Blacks squad to the provincial rugby competition after a successful Bledisloe raid in Sydney should add spice to some key contests this weekend.

The key match in this weekend's fifth round will surely be Wellington's Ranfurly Shield defence against Canterbury, who welcome back the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Brad Thorn to their side.

Wellington coach Jamie Joseph may well now play his All Blacks after being given Rodney So'oialo, Neemia Tialata and Piri Weepu for a maximum two provincial games inbetween the Tri Nations Tests, while Ma'a Nonu's free for one game.

Waikato will surely also welcome back four All Blacks as they try to turn their Air New Zealand Cup season around.

The Mooloos are bottom but with Stephen Donald, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Aled de Malmanche and Brendon Leonard training with Waikato this week and available for selection, the Counties match should see them off the bottom at last.

Most of the All Blacks will be available for one or two games with provincial coaches to make the call if and when the players play.

The players available for one game are McCaw, John Afoa, Jimmy Cowan, Donald, Andrew Hore, Jerome Kaino, Nonu, Josevata Rokocoko, Sivivatu, Thorn and Tony Woodcock.

The players available for two games are Wyatt Crockett, de Malmanche, Jason Eaton, Tanerau Latimer, Leonard, So'oialo, Tialata, Isaia Toeava and Weepu.

A decision on the availability of Carter and Kieran Read, who are sore after the Bledisloe Cup victory, will be made over the next few days.

An update on Luke McAlister, who fractured his right cheekbone, as well as Conrad Smith, who strained his left hamstring, will be made once they've been further assessed.