Australia, NZ name World Cup semifinal lineups

STEVE McMORRAN - AP Sports Writer
New Zealand rugby player Aaron Cruden kicks a drop goal during training in Auckland, New Zealand, Friday, Oct 14, 2011. New Zealand will play Australia in their Rugby World Cup semifinal on Sunday, Oct 16.  (AP Photo/Ross Land)
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New Zealand rugby player Aaron Cruden kicks a drop goal during training in Auckland, New Zealand, Friday, Oct 14, 2011. New Zealand will play Australia in their Rugby World Cup semifinal on Sunday, Oct 16. (AP Photo/Ross Land)

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand entrusted its No. 10 jersey to a player it initially didn't want in its squad while Australia showed trust in the recuperative powers of fullback Kurtley Beale as rival coaches announced their lineups for Sunday's World Cup semifinal.

The All Blacks included 22-year-old Aaron Cruden at flyhalf among three changes to its starting backline Friday for the match at Eden Park, a stadium where they haven't lost to Australia since 1986.

A little later Friday, Australia named Beale at fullback in an unchanged semifinal lineup, giving him until Saturday to demonstrate his recovery from a hamstring strain.

Coach Robbie Deans says if Beale hopes to play "he'll have to convince us that he's 100 percent."

"He ran this morning," Deans said. "He did a significant amount of running. He was comfortable. He'll have to go again tomorrow, show he's had no ill effects, convince himself personally, and then us."

Beale has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation, and his teammates have said all week that starting without him on Eden Park would be a severe blow.

"If Kurtley can't take his place, we've had every opportunity to prepare anyway," Deans said. "We'll deal with it in real time and move on. The team has prepared well, it won't be a distraction for them."

In the only other change to the Australian squad, lock Rob Simmons has been promoted to the reserves bench at the expense of 99-test veteran Nathan Sharpe.

"We make the decisions we believe are going to be best for us. Emotion is definitely part of it," Deans said. "But in terms of sentiment — talking about the hundred — those sorts of things don't come into consideration."

France and Wales continued late preparations for Saturday's first semifinal which could send Wales to its first World Cup final or allow France to repeat the final appearance it made when the tournament was last held in New Zealand in 1987.

France coach Marc Lievremont finalized his match 22 on Friday, naming utility back Jean-Marc Doussain and flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo as his final two replacements.

Doussain was a late inclusion in the World Cup squad and will now get his chance on the biggest stage.

Cruden has had a small taste. Two weeks ago Cruden was following the Rugby World Cup on television and skateboarding, before a tournament-ending groin injury to star flyhalf Daniel Carter led to his callup to the All Blacks squad. He played 47 minutes of last weekend's quarterfinal against Argentina as a replacement for Colin Slade, who followed Carter out of the tournament with a groin strain.

Now, after only seven international matches and a year since his only test start, Cruden finds himself New Zealand's No. 1 flyhalf and about to play a World Cup semifinal in front of a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions.

"It's funny how things can change in two weeks," Cruden said. "It's a pretty awesome rollercoaster I'm riding at the moment."

All Blacks coach Graham Henry said Cruden was coping well with his rapid elevation into the starting flyhalf role and the pressure that entailed. He hasn't started a test since October last year when an inadequate performance against Australia led to his omission from the All Blacks team. A survivor of testicular cancer, Cruden wasn't able to fight his way back into a New Zealand side until two weeks ago.

"He's the man this week," Henry said. "Last week he was sub so it's a big challenge for him but he's a bright rugby player, he knows the game well."

Cruden said he felt a better player now than 12 months ago when his international career briefly faltered.

"Back then I was fairly nervous and put a lot of pressure on myself but this time the boys have really got behind me and just said to go out there and be Aaron Cruden and express myself, play my natural game," he said. "That's something I look forward to on Sunday."

New Zealand named Israel Dagg at fullback and Richard Kahui on the left wing in the only other changes to the lineup which beat Argentina 33-10 last weekend. Dagg missed that match with a haematoma and Kahui with a shoulder injury.

Victor Vito was named as loose-forward reserve after Adam Thomson failed a fitness test. His role might be a vital one as concerns remain about All Blacks captain Richie McCaw who has a foot injury.

McCaw "is pretty upbeat and looking forward to the game but he's frustrated by it obviously," Henry said. "He'd like to be taking full part (in training) but you've just got to be pragmatic about it and he's doing that."

France has also had concerns about one of its veteran star players.

With scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili carrying a thigh injury, Lievremont finally decided to have the uncapped Doussain on the bench as a backup scrumhalf rather than switching Morgan Parra from flyhalf back to scrumhalf should Yachvili go off.

"We need to have a complete halfback pairing on the bench," Lievremont said, adding that Parra's high workrate was crucial to keeping the Wales midfield in check.

Lievremont said Wales' selection of James Hook at flyhalf in place of the injured Rhys Priestland was a worry for France.

"Priestland's an excellent player, but James Hook is obviously a very experienced player, a player I like a lot," Lievremont said. "In my opinion Wales will be stronger with him than without him."

Lievremont said France needed another big performance against Wales — a follow-up to its quarterfinal win over England — to fully expunge frustration at its poor performance in pool play.

"A good match against England isn't enough to rid us of all our frustrations," he said. "We've tried to get the players to take responsibility for the way they play and the psychological aspect of this match."