Wellington - Wing Cory Jane has been named in New Zealand's starting lineup for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup rugby Test against Australia after playing only two matches in nine months in an injury-damaged season.
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The 43-Test veteran ruptured knee ligaments in a training match in January and missed the entire Super Rugby season, the All Blacks' June Tests against France and all of last month's Rugby Championship. He made a low-key return to rugby over the past two weeks, playing twice for Wellington in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
But coach Steve Hansen has been convinced of Jane's fitness and has recalled him for his first Test since December as Ben Smith moves from the right wing to centre in the absence of Conrad Smith, who has begun a four-month rugby "sabbatical."
Lock Jeremy Thrush will make his first start after playing the first three Tests of his career this season from the bench. Promotion to the starting lineup gives Thrush the chance to cement his place in the squad which will play tests in Japan, Britain and France in November.
Keven Mealamu has been named to start his 109th Test at hooker, taking over from Andrew Hore, who started in the 38-27 win over South Africa in Johannesburg which clinched the Rugby Championship title.
Saturday's test is effectively a dead rubber as New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup - played for annually between the All Blacks and Wallabies - after beating Australia twice during the Rugby Championship.
But Hansen said his team was determined to maintain its standards after a win over South Africa in what has been counted as one of the best Tests in rugby history.
"This is a challenge this team needs and will help define the progress we are making," Hansen said. "If we don't attempt to improve our performance from our last outing we are vulnerable to being overtaken."
Hansen said he was confident of Ben Smith's ability to take over from Conrad Smith at center, though he has played all of his Tests this season on the wing. He said Smith had established himself as a key member of the All Blacks backline and had already demonstrated his adaptability.
"We wanted him to really fill the jersey out and be comfortable in it," Hansen said. "He's done that and was probably the back of the championship, if not the player of the championship. He is in a rich vein of form."
Aaron Cruden will again start at flyhalf in the absence of Dan Carter, who has a shoulder injury.Teams:
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben
Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8
Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel
Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony
Substitutes: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben
Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22
Beauden Barrett, 23 Tom Taylor
Australia: 15 Israel Folau,
14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Peter
Betham, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper,
6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander,
2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper
Substitutes: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17
Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Dave Dennis, 21
Nic White, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Bernard Foley