Sonny Bill set for All Blacks bow
November 4, 2010
The media storm surrounding Sonny Bill Williams is set to intensify this weekend © Getty Images
The battle lines have been drawn for England's latest meeting with the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday.
Rising star Sonny Bill Williams has been handed his All Blacks debut as Graham Henry makes four changes to the side beaten by Australia last weekend. Alby Mathewson, Sam Whitelock and Hosea Gear have also been drafted in after the 26-24 loss in Hong Kong but it's rugby league convert Williams' inclusion that will steal the headlines.
Williams has replaced Conrad Smith at outside centre, where he will form a powerhouse 212kg midfield partnership with Ma'a Nonu. Smith has been left out of the 22-man squad, meaning Isaia Toeava will have to be called upon if the Williams experiment flops.
Williams aside, the selection threw up plenty of other talking points. Scrum-half Jimmy Cowan was sent to the stands to allow Mathewson to make his first Test start while Andy Ellis comes into the replacements. Tom Donnelly too lost his place altogether with Whitelock coming into the second row and Anthony Boric moving onto the bench as cover.
Gear's start comes at the expense of injured wing Cory Jane, who injured his ribs against Australia. Gear's 100kg frame only adds to the monstrous backline that could be giving England's backs some heart palpitations. The bench has undergone a massive overhaul, with Daniel Braid losing his place to Liam Messam and Ben Franks replaced John Afoa as the other changes.
England have been buoyed by the return of powerful prop Andrew Sheridan for Saturday's mouth-watering showdown. The Sale Sharks loose-head has not played for his country in just under two years because of a shoulder injury sustained in October 2009 but Sheridan, now fully rehabilitated, has reclaimed his place in the front-row from London Wasps' Tim Payne in the only change to the side which defeated Australia in June.
Consequently, Sheridan will line up alongside Leeds veteran Steve Thompson, who has held off fierce competition from Northampton's Dylan Hartley for the hooking berth, and Leicester's Dan Cole.
Bath flanker Lewis Moody continues as captain after recovering from a recent eye injury, while former New Zealand rugby league star Shontayne Hape will start against his compatriots after holding on to the No.12 jersey.
Hape is one of five players who will be making their first Test appearances at Twickenham, with the others being fullback Ben Foden, wing Chris Ashton, scrum-half Ben Youngs and lock Courtney Lawes.
With Jonny Wilkinson having been ruled out of the November Tests through injury, Leicester Tigers fly-half Toby Flood has again been entrusted with the playmaking duties, with Sale's Charlie Hodgson, returning to an England match squad for the first time in two years, providing cover from the bench. Also included amongst the replacements are Bath prop David Wilson, who has been preferred to the axed Payne, and uncapped duo Dave Attwood and Hendrie Fourie.
England: B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Tindall (Gloucester), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (Leeds), D Cole (Leicester); C Lawes (Northampton), T Palmer (Stade Francais); T Croft (Leicester), L Moody (Bath, capt), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), D Attwood (Gloucester), H Fourie (Leeds), D Care (Harlequins), C Hodgson (Sale), D Armitage (London Irish).
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Waikato); J Rokocoko (Auckland), SB Williams (Canterbury), M Nonu (Wellington), H Gear (Wellington); D Carter (Canterbury), A Mathewson (Wellington); T Woodcock (North Harbour), K Mealamu (Auckland), O Franks (Canterbury), B Thorn (Canterbury), S Whitelock (Canterbury), J Kaino (Auckland), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt), K Read (Canterbury)
Replacements: H Elliot (Hawke's Bay), B Franks (Tasman), A Boric (North Habour), L Messam (Waikato), A Ellis (Canterbury), S Donald (Waikato), I Toeava (Auckland)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson (Aus), David Changleng (Sco)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9