Sonny Bill gets All Blacks start
November 4, 2010
Sonny Bill Williams will become a dual international at Twickenham © Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams has been handed his All Blacks debut as Graham Henry makes four changes for the team to face England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Alby Mathewson, Sam Whitelock and Hosea Gear have also been drafted in after the 26-24 loss to Australia 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.
Playing for Canterbury in the ITM Cup and Toulon in France, Williams was more accustomed to playing in the No.12 jersey, bringing players outside him into play with his passes at the line and offloads, so his selection at outside centre is something of a calculated risk by Henry.
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 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 replacing John Afoa as the other change.
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen said critics should be patient with Williams regardless of how his debut pans out.
"It's going to be a big test for him, this is a different level of rugby to what he's used to. Sometimes it takes a bit of time, I don't think we can be too critical," he said. "We've just got to ease him into it. We know he's a great athlete and he's got some special qualities. One of those is his attitude. He's a pretty humble young man, his feet are firmly on the floor.
"His time in league has given him that ability to be able to keep the ball alive. He's got hands on him like ham sandwiches, he can hang on to the ball in one hand... I think you're going to need someone high and someone low [to stop him]."
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, captain), 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)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.