Jones delays paternity visit home

Stacey Jones comesback again, with the mercurial halfback planning to play off the bench for the Kiwis against France on Saturday.

The Kiwis have not officially confirmed the move, but it is understood that Jones has asked to play in the rugby league international at Toulouse, delaying a flight home to New Zealand by 24 hours to do so.

Jones will turn out at the Stade Albert Wallon on Saturday, then catch the first morning flight out of Toulouse to catch a connection to Auckland.

His wife is due to give birth to their third child on Thursday.

Jones will wear the No. 14 jersey, instead of his regular No. 7, with Motu Tony expected to start in his place in an all-new halfback combination after stand-off Nigel Vagana was ruled out by suspension.

Vagana was given a one-game ban by a Tri-Nations disciplinary committee on Tuesday, meaning he will be available for the tournament final if the Kiwis qualify. That depends on the result of Sunday's Great Britain-Australia match.

Kiwi coach Brian McClennan says his original policy for Saturday's game of fielding his strongest-possible team has changed to fielding his fittest after a wave of injuries. "That was the initial plan, and it still is, but it has got down to where we are playing just about our healthiest because some will miss out through injury problems," he said. "I think only one player will miss out even though they are healthy."

While skipper Ruben Wiki is fit after nose surgery, the Kiwis have now ruled out wing Manu Vatuvei, who has complained of dizziness after suffering several head knocks in last weekend's defeat by Britain.

Paul Rauhihi is already out, and Brent Webb and David Faiumu remains in doubt, leaving McClennan with few options, although he expects all his casualties to be fit for the November 26 final at Leeds, should his side qualify.

The last time the Kiwis played France, between the 2004 Tri-Nations, they only scraped a two-point win, but prop Roy Asotasi says there will be no repeat of that embarrassment.

"We struggled last year, but we'll have a better chance this year. This is a different team," he said. "Bluey has made it clear we can't have back-to-back losses, so we pretty much want to smash them."

McClennan said the mood in the camp had lifted after Sunday's 38-12 defeat, and after reflecting on the tapes, it is clear he has a more positive view of the result now.

"We just got stung early on. They went for broke. They knew they had to score lots of points so they went for a lot of second-phase offloads that worked," he said. "At the 30-minute mark, we were down 8-2 in the penalties: that's an extra 36 tackles you have to do. In that first half, we only had the ball 30 per cent of the time, they had it 70, and came up with 26 well-deserved points that flattened us out.

"But the fact we came out after half time, and beat them three tries to two for that half, shows plenty of character in this football side. Considering we used up a lot of petrol in the first half, it was a pretty gutsy performance. So we're very disappointed, but we're also very proud of the way we rallied."

Asotasi admitted he and his team-mates were "over-confident" in that defeat.

"I think they had more to play for, and we were just overconfident," he said. "We didn't realise how intense they were. We have to rectify that performance this weekend."

The coach said he was delighted by Great Britain's stated desire to not just qualify for the tournament final, but also to eliminate Australia.

"Good on 'em," McClennan said. "If they get us in the final, and want us in the final, that's good luck to them. But unlike Great Britain, we don't mind who we play."

The Kiwis are formulating a late plan to get McClennan to Hull to see the game and start planning his attack on the final should the result go New Zealand's way.

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