SBW to start for All Blacks

by AFP

Sonny Bill Williams returns and Aaron Smith is restored as New Zealand's first-choice scrum-half for Friday's clash with Samoa - a dress rehearsal for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions the following week.

Fullback Ben Smith will lead the side in place of the unavailable Kieran Read for the main feature in the double-header evening at Auckland's Eden Park with Wales and Tonga playing the curtain-raiser.

Smith will lead a vastly experienced New Zealand unit containing 871 Test caps while also including two new All Blacks Jordie Barrett and Vaea Fifita on the bench.Jordie Barrett is expected to make his debut from the bench. Photo: Getty ImagesRegular skipper Read (thumb), back up flyhalf Aaron Cruden (knee)and centre Ryan Crotty (ribs) were not considered but are expected to be available for the three Lions Tests.

Code hopper Williams, a standout performer when the Auckland Blues beat the Lions last week, returns to the All Blacks for the first time in two years after focussing on rugby sevens at the Olympics after the 2015 World Cup final and then suffering a crippling Achilles injury.

Aaron Smith is back in favour after losing his starting spot last year to TJ Perenara when his form slumped following publicity about a tryst in an airport toilet last year.Aaron Smith returns to the starting XV. Photo: Getty ImagesNew Zealand have won all six Tests they have played against Samoa, with the lowest margin 25-16 when they last met in Apia two years ago.

But coach Steve Hansen said there was no room for complacency.

"Samoa is about to kick off the qualifying stage of their Rugby World Cup campaign, so this will make them even more dangerous," Hansen said.

"The Samoans are always a challenge and will play with a high level of physicality and skill. At the very minimum, we will need to match that."


All Blacks team to face Samoa

1. Joe Moody

2. Codie Taylor

3. Owen Franks

4. Brodie Retallick

 5. Sam Whitelock

6. Jerome Kaino

7. Sam Cane

8. Ardie Savea

9. Aaron Smith

10. Beauden Barrett

11. Julian Savea

12. Sonny Bill Williams

13. Anton Lienert-Brown

14. Israel Dagg

15. Ben Smith (C)


 16. Nathan Harris

17. Wyatt Crockett

18. Charlie Faumuina

19. Scott Barrett

20. Vaea Fifita

21. TJ Perenara

22. Lima Sopoaga

23. Jordie Barrett

The All Blacks face Samoa tomorrow night, kicking off at 6pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS.