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Dagg, SB Williams in backline shakeup for NZ

 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 ...

Fullback Israel Dagg and center Sonny Bill Williams were surprisingly included in a rejigged New Zealand backline full of startling choices by coach Graham Henry for Friday's World Cup opener against Tonga.
Dagg, who thought his World Cup hopes were over when he tore his right thigh muscle off the bone in May, has replaced Mils Muliaina, who is two tests away from playing his 100th.
Williams, considering an option to leave New Zealand after the tournament because he wasn't doing enough to break up the Ma'a Nonu-Conrad Smith midfield partnership, was slotted in at inside center and Nonu moved out to 13 at the expense of Smith.
Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava were also picked on the wings ahead of the team's only specialists Cory Jane, who was in the reserves, and Zac Guildford. Kahui will start on a wing for New Zealand for the first time since 2008.
Scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan and flyhalf Dan Carter will begin their 25th test together, but only Carter and Nonu have retained spots in the backline from the side which lost the Tri-Nations decider to Australia two weeks ago in Brisbane.
The All Blacks coaches had promised to send out close to their best 15, but without veterans Muliaina, Smith and Mealamu _ none of whom were in the reserves _ the backline, at least, had an experimental look.
"We don't know who's going to be standing and who's not by the end of the tournament, so you've got to give players an opportunity to force their abilities on the selectors," Henry said.
The forwards were far more settled, led out by flanker Richie McCaw for the 62nd time in his 99th test.
McCaw and Muliaina, the All Blacks' record test caps holders, were expected to reach triple figures together next week against Japan, but McCaw looks set to reach the milestone first.
With Keven Mealamu rested, 55-capped Andrew Hore will start at hooker, backed up by Corey Flynn. Remarkably, Brad Thorn and Ali Williams were also the starting locks against Tonga at the 2003 World Cup, when the teams last met.
While No. 8 Kieran Read continues his recovery from torn ankle ligaments that might not make him available until the quarterfinals, Victor Vito will start his first test in a year. Reserve lock Anthony Boric, following a foot injury in the Super 15 playoffs, has made his first All Blacks team this year, and regular lock Sam Whitelock will be the backup loose forward, even though he hasn't played there since the start of 2010.
Henry said Dagg was not the No. 1 fullback in the team, but that Muliaina was going through a "flat patch."
"He has been one of the top fullbacks in the world for some time, played outstanding for a long time, but he's having a flat patch," Henry said. "Knowing Mils, he'll respond to that."
Dagg amazed the All Blacks' selectors with the speed of his recovery, and played only a game each for his club and province before he was thrown into the Tri-Nations test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth with other World Cup hopefuls and was the lone star in a primarily second-string team which lost 18-5.
"The selectors didn't think he'd make it (to the World Cup) but we were hoping he would," Henry said. "Now he knows he is up for potential selection in the top team and that's extra pressure. He is obviously talented but inexperienced."
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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 : 2021-05-19 10:24 GMT+08:00