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All Blacks Hand Weepu, Whitelock Starts for Tri-Nations Decider

New Zealand made 11 changes for this weekend’s Tri-Nations rugby decider against Australia, including picking Piri Weepu at scrum-half and Sam Whitelock at lock.

The All Blacks recalled all but one of the senior players who didn’t feature in the 18-5 loss in South Africa five days ago. With the backline completely changed, forwards Whitelock, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock and Adam Thomson were the only players retained from the starting team in Port Elizabeth.

Weepu’s only previous start this year was the 30-14 victory over Australia in Auckland on Aug. 6. He’s one of the 10 starters from that game included for the championship decider at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium in two days. The match is both teams’ final Test before the World Cup in New Zealand.

“This is a tournament-defining match for the team,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said in a statement. “We will have to play at our very best. It’s going to be a massive Test match.”

The All Blacks are tied with the Wallabies on nine points atop the Tri-Nations standings as they seek a record-extending 11th title in 16 editions. Australia won the last of its two southern hemisphere rugby championships in 2001.

The title was also on the line when the teams last met in Brisbane three years ago. The All Blacks won that match 28-24.

NEW ZEALAND: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: Andrew Hore, John Afoa, Ali Williams, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Isaia Toeava.

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