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Ma'a Nonu returns in number 12 jersey ahead of SBW

Published: 5:22AM Wednesday June 13, 2012 Source: Fairfax

Ma'a Nonu's reinstatement to the All Blacks' midfield for Saturday night's second test is a done deal.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen had promised minimal changes following last weekend's 42-10 annihilation of the Irish at Eden Park but will be unable to resist promoting Nonu to second five-eighth ahead of the in-form Sonny Bill Williams.

Nonu's return coincides with Adam Thomson's start at blindside flanker after it was confirmed Victor Vito's knee ligament injury could rule him out for up to five weeks.

Nonu's revival at the expense of Williams, who has been in scintillating form for the Chiefs, is no state secret: fullback Israel Dagg let slip he will win back his No12 jersey following the first test win and for the first time since the World Cup final on October 23 former Hurricanes' team-mates "Skuxx" (Nonu) and "Snake" (Conrad Smith) will be reunited.

Hansen, who will reveal his team tomorrow, rested Nonu from the Eden Park match to allow him to recover after a playing schedule that included playing for the Hurricanes, All Blacks, Japanese club Ricoh and the Blues since February last year.

While Williams' Super Rugby form has been compelling, and he was a strong ball running option despite some maintenance lapses at Eden Park, it appears Hansen is following a preordained plan.

His argument will be based around the same principles of why he selected experienced Blues' team-mates Piri Weepu and Ali Williams in his 30-man squad.

Nonu, 30, has played 66 tests and has been a regular starter in the All Blacks' midfield since the 2007 World Cup.

But unlike Weepu and Williams, who will again be named on the bench, Nonu will earn an early chance to prove to Hansen he should be a permanent fixture there later in the season.

Last year Nonu's Tri Nations' hot form forced former coach Graham Henry to utilise Williams as a fringe player and his major contribution during the World Cup playoffs was on the left wing against Argentina in the quarterfinal and on the bench for the semi and final.

Hansen's penchant for rewarding experienced players was also reflected in the declaration Liam Messam is on standby and will train with the squad in Hamilton for the third test.

Messam, controversially left out of last month's 35-man training group, will only join the squad if there is another injury.

Messam has been promoted ahead of young loose forwards Luke Whitelock and Brad Shields who were surprise inclusions in the training camps.

"We said right at the beginning we knew as much as we needed to know about Liam and there was no point bringing him to the camp," Hansen said.

"We also said we would bring people in from outside the 35 and Liam has has a very, very good season and been consistent."

Whitelock trained with the All Blacks at the Linwood club yesterday.

The uncapped Sam Cane will be named on the bench for this weekend as Thomson's replacement.

Hooker Keven Mealamu, who has recovered from a calf strain, trained yesterday but will not play until the third test.

Probable All Blacks starting team: Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.