LONDON (AP) — New Zealand All Blacks selectors have resisted pressure to drop out-of-form center Sonny Bill Williams from the starting lineup for Saturday's test against England.
Williams was retained for Twickenham test and will combine in midfield with rising star Jack Goodhue, who returns after a bout of glandular fever.
Damian McKenzie has also been retained at fullback as New Zealand pursues the mainly theoretical use of two playmakers in its starting XV.
Ardie Savea will again start at flanker in place of the injured Sam Cane and Karl Tu'inukuafe will play at loosehead prop in place of Joe Moody, who will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining an eye injury.
Williams is the most contentious selection. His 2018 season has been affected by injuries but he has also been inconsistent in All Blacks' backplay, lacking the pace or the handling skills of the remainder of the New Zealand backline.
Williams also was responsible for some defensive lapses against Australia when the teams met at Yokohama, Japan, two weeks ago, but held onto his spot in favor of Ryan Crotty against England.
Head coach Steve Hansen has persisted with Williams throughout his tenure, despite some criticism of the former rugby league star's performances.
McKenzie was preferred at fullback to highly-rated Ben Smith, who continues his exile on the wing. In theory, McKenzie should offer a second playmaking option after flyhalf Beauden Barrett but in the cut and thrust of a modern test match, that option rarely presents itself.
McKenzie does provide a safe pair of hands if England pursues a kicking game.
The All Blacks' forward pack is the strongest that can be selected, taking injuries into account. Brodie Retallick, the international player of the year, returns to the starting lineup at lock and hooker Dane Coles, who made his first test appearance in a year against Japan last week, is in the reserves.
The loss of Moody is not the major blow it might have been if Karl Tu'inukuafe had not had the chance to establish himself as an outstanding scrummager.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith is out of form and was benched for the match against Australia but is now challenged to rediscover his best form.
Goodhue strengthens the backline and England will struggle to match the pace of McKenzie and winger Rieko Ioane.
England "will have gained a lot of confidence from their win over South Africa and be keen to make a statement in front of their passionate Twickenham home crowd," Hansen said. "However, for us it's about making our own statement.
"To do that, we'll need to bring our own intensity and accuracy to an even higher level throughout the game."
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu'inukuafe. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, T.J. Perenara, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty.