New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney has expressed his confidence in outside backs Kevin Locke and Jason Nightingale after giving them the nod for tomorrow’s World Cup semi-final.
Locke, who is set to lose the No 1 jersey at New Zealand Warriors to new recruit Sam Tomkins in 2014, has got the vote at full-back ahead of Brisbane’s Josh Hoffman, while Nightingale will deputise for the injured Manu Vatuvei.
“I thought Kevin had a really good match (against Scotland) last week,” said Kearney. “For this game, I thought this was the best choice for the group. He deserved the opportunity.”
Vatuvei, 27, whose tally of 17 tries in 23 appearances for the Kiwis includes four in one match against England in the 2008 World Cup, has failed to recover from a groin injury sustained in last Friday’s 40-4 quarter-final win over the Scots. That means a second appearance of the tournament for St George Illawarra winger Nightingale, winning his 19th cap.
“Manu hasn’t run at all this week,” said Kearney. “There was a chance that he could have been right for Saturday but we would have had to wait right up until the last minute. With what’s at stake, I wanted to give Jason Nightingale a full week’s preparation on the wing, so he could get his mind around playing.
“I know Jason is a tremendous footballer and it’s certainly hard to leave him off your team list when you’re picking a team. He’ll do a wonderful job for us.”
Brisbane second-row Alex Glenn has been included in Kearney’s 19-man squad in case Frank Pritchard fails to recover from a “bit of a hamstring twinge” while Sam Kasiano has got the nod over former Hull prop Sam Moa for a place on the bench.
“Frank’s never had one of those before,” said Kearney. “We’ve had a couple of stretch sessions this week and we’ve had a yoga session – just because of the cold weather.
“We’ve been very mindful of making sure we’re ticking all the boxes there to make sure the lads are ready when they train. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way, which is unfortunate.
“We’re hopeful, but we’ll have to see how he pulls up over the next couple of days.”