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SB Williams, Dagg selected in backline shakeup

 New Zealand All Black captain Richie McCaw runs past assistant coach Wayne Simth, right, during a training session in Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, ...
 New Zealand All Black Sonny Bill Williams, centre, trains with teammates Zak Guildford, right, and Ben Franks at All Black training in Auckland, New ...

New Zealand WCUP Rugby World Cup

New Zealand All Black captain Richie McCaw runs past assistant coach Wayne Simth, right, during a training session in Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, ...

New Zealand WCUP Rugby World Cup

New Zealand All Black Sonny Bill Williams, centre, trains with teammates Zak Guildford, right, and Ben Franks at All Black training in Auckland, New ...

New Zealand coach Graham Henry has completely overhauled his backline to include Sonny Bill Williams at center and a new back three for Friday's World Cup opener against Tonga.
Williams, dropped for the Tri-Nations decider which the All Blacks lost in Australia last month, was recalled Wednesday at the expense of Conrad Smith, while fullback Mils Muliaina and wingers Cory Jane and Zac Guildford were replaced by Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava and Richard Kahui.
Ma'a Nonu has shifted one spot wider to outside center to accommodate Williams, a rugby league convert who will be playing his eighth test for the All Blacks.
Jimmy Cowan was preferred to Piri Weepu at scrumhalf and will partner flyhalf Daniel Carter for the 25th test together.
The top-ranked All Blacks are under intense pressure to win the World Cup on home soil. Despite being a perennial favorite, the All Blacks have not won a World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987 _ the last time New Zealand hosted the tournament.
The pressure has compounded following back-to-back away losses to World Cup champion South Africa and No. 2-ranked Australia. A second-string lineup lost in South Africa but a near full-strength squad lost 25-20 to the Wallabies after trailing 20-3 at half time to surrender the Tri-Nations title.
That prompted the wholesale changes for the starting lineup to face a big, powerful Tongan squad that has had a reception more like the home team since arriving on Monday to be greeted by thousands of fans at the Auckland airport.
"There is real competition in a number of positions, at fullback and on the wings and other positions as well, and the selection of the starting XV reflects that," Henry said. "Those players selected have now been given the opportunity which is exciting and they will all look to make the most of their chance."
The All Blacks coaches have indicated that barring injuries, a "backbone" of key players will be used in all the pool matches with the aim of peaking for the knockout rounds.
Flanker Richie McCaw will lead New Zealand for the 62nd time in his 99th test, while in the front row the All Blacks most capped prop Tony Woodcock will play alongside 55test hooker Andrew Hore and Owen Franks.
Veteran locks Brad Thorn and Ali Williams, who were the starting locks against Tonga at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, will start their 20th test together in the second row, while Jerome Kaino returns on the blindside flank and Victor Vito gets a test start for the third time.
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New Zealand squad: Israel Dagg, Richard Kahui, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Isaia Toeava, Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan; Victor Vito, Richie McCaw (captain), 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.


Updated : 2021-01-27 00:46 GMT+08:00