Sonny Bill to start in World Cup Opener

by Staff Writer

Sonny Bill Williams has been given the chance to revive his Test career in an imposing All Blacks midfield for the Rugby World Cup's opening match against Tonga on Friday night.

Williams inclusion in the starting line up at the expense of Conrad Smith is one of nine changes to the starting side from New Zealand's last start 25-20 loss to the Wallabies in the Tri Nations series decider.

Rising star Israel Dagg has been given a chance at fullback ahead of veteran Mils Muliaina, while Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava get the winger spots in a greatly revamped backline.

The All Blacks will play the physical Tongan side in their Group A match at Eden Park with powerful former rugby league star Williams at inside centre paired with the formidable Ma'a Nonu who moves out one place to form a blockbusting partnership.

Williams, who has yet to re-sign with the All Blacks beyond the World Cup, had been on the fringes of the in the squad this year and could not even make the bench in last test against the Wallabies.

However, he would not talk about his inability to break into the All Blacks as a first choice player earlier in the season.

"I'm really excited to get my shot. I'm concentrating on playing this week. Everything else is irrelevant to me," he said at the team announcement.

Nonu, who has not played at outside centre this year, was looking forward to teaming up with Williams who is renowned for drawing in defenders before using his strength and long arms to produce freakish off-loads.

"Hopefully he can do his magic and I can run off him," he said.

Coach Graham Henry said Conrad Smith would start in the All Blacks next game and it was important to give the "backbone" of his starting XV regular game time together while "other players needed to have the opportunity to get game time as well."

Prop Tony Woodcock has been included despite suffering a hamstring twinge earlier in the week while Adam Thomson and Kieran Read were not considered because of injury.

Lock Sam Whitelock is in the reserves and will act as cover for the loose forwards.

Flyhalf Dan Carter and Nonu are the only backs to survive the defeat in Brisbane by Australia with the changes including the notable inclusion of centre Richard Kahui on the wing

In the forwards Ali Williams replaces Whitelock while he focuses on loose forward duties, and Andrew Hore will start at hooker with Corey Flynn in the reserves and Keven Mealamu left out of the squad.

New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Richard Kahui, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Isaia Toeava, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane.

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