Crotty to start for New Zealand, South Africa pick strongest team for blockbuster

Rugby World Cup
AFP
by AFP

Crusaders backline general Ryan Crotty has been preferred to Sonny Bill Williams to marshall the All Blacks in their blockbuster World Cup opener against South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday.

Williams has been relegated to the bench as has Ben Smith, with coach Steve Hansen staying with his twin playmaker system -- Beauden Barrett at fullback and Crotty's Crusader's teammate Richie Mo'unga at fly-half.

"Any combination of players in our squad could have justified their selection," Hansen said as he named his side on Thursday for the openng Pool B clash involving two of the tournament favourites.

"But in the end we believe the 23 we have selected is the right group for this opposition," added Hansen.

"In today's rugby environment, you need to have the mindset that it's not just about who starts, it's also about what the players coming off the bench can provide."

There is only one change in the forwards to the pack that demolished Australia 36-0 last month with Scott Barrett joining Sam Whitelock in the second row.

The starting front row is made up of props Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala with Dane Coles at hooker while the loose forwards are the experienced trio of Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read.

Shannon Frizell, who was rushed to Japan a week ago as a late replacement, wins a place on the bench.

Aaron Smith lines up at scrum-half with Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge and Sevu Reece completing the backline.

"Our focus has been building throughout the week. We've had a very good week's training in the heat and rain here in Tokyo," Hansen said.

"The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening Test (of the World Cup) has us excited and energised by what lies ahead. Each time we play South Africa, it's a tight battle and a real arm wrestle."

No more than two points has separated the two sides in their last four Tests with New Zealand winning two, South Africa one and their most recent encounter was a 16-16 draw.

South African coach Rassie Erasmus predictably named his number one side on Thursday to face New Zealand in the marquee clash on the opening weekend of the World Cup.

He will roll out the same side that thrashed Japan in their final warm-up match before the tournament, a line-up that had only one change from the team that drew 16-all with New Zealand last month when Siya Kolisi was injured.

Between them, the Springboks and All Blacks have won five of the eight World Cups and Erasmus has been quite open about the game plan needed to take down his arch-rivals in their Pool B clash at Yokohama on Saturday.

Against Japan, Springbok halves Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard spent much of the time kicking the ball away so the South Africans could rehearse their defensive lines ahead of the sustained periods of attack they expect from the All Blacks.

"We've picked our best side," Erasmus said.

"It's going to be a massive challenge with the rain they're predicting.

Everyone's talking about the slippery ball and the wetness. Kicking is going to play a big part."

Erasmus believed his backline -- with a speedy outside trio of Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi -- would match whoever the All Blacks put up but the crunch area would be how his bigger forward pack handled the breakdown in the humidity as the game wore on.

"We've been working really hard on that over the last six or seven Test matches. It will be a massive challenge."

With Kolisi restored to full health he will form a powerful loose forward trio with Duane Vermeulen and Pieter-Steph du Toit, with the tight five of Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff adding muscle.

New Zealand takes on South Africa on Saturday September 21, kicking off at 6:45pm local, 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.

TEAMS

New Zealand to face South Africa

1. Joe Moody

2. Dane Coles

3. Nepo Laulala

4. Samuel Whitelock

5. Scott Barrett

6. Ardie Savea

7. Sam Cane

8. Kieran Read (capt.)

9. Aaron Smith

10. Richie Mo'unga

11. George Bridge

12. Ryan Crotty

13. Anton Lienert-Brown

14. Sevu Reece

15. Beauden Barrett

Reserves

16. Codie Taylor

17. Ofa Tuungafasi

18. Angus Ta'avao

19. Patrick Tuipulotu

20. Shannon Frizell

21. TJ Perenara

22. Sonny Bill Williams

23. Ben Smith

South Africa to face New Zealand

1. Steven Kitshoff

2. Malcolm Marx

3. Frans Malherbe

4. Eben Etzebeth

5. Franco Mostert

6. Siya Kolisi (capt.)

7. Pieter-Steph Du Toit

8. Duane Vermeulen

9. Faf De Klerk

10. Handre Pollard

11. Makazole Mapimpi

12. Damian de Allende

13. Lukhanyo Am

14. Cheslin Kolbe

15. Willie Le Roux

Reserves

16. Mbongeni Mbonambi

17. Tendai Mtawarira

18. Trevor Nyakane

19. RG Snyman

20. Francois Louw

21. Herschel Jantjies

22. Frans Steyn

23. Jesse Kriel