Sonny Bill Williams is back and set to make an impact for the All Blacks in the looming big matches of the Rugby World Cup.
the message from former NRL star Williams’ selection on the bench in a
full-strength New Zealand team named to meet major pool A rival France –
their nemesis of the 1999 and 2007 World Cups – at Eden Park on
There were some raised eyebrows when the blockbusting
Williams failed to make the match squad for the All Blacks’ Tri Nations
series deciding loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane late last month.
The thinking was that he wasn’t versatile enough to fill a bench spot, having played all his rugby union at centre.
coach Graham Henry clearly values his potential as a game-turner from
the bench and gave him the chance to prove his utility value when he did
well on the wing in the 83-7 pool win over Japan last Friday.
no doubt the team chosen to play France is the one Henry thinks is his
best available, with only injured No.8 star Kieran Read not considered.
Skipper Richie McCaw is back for his 100th Test, returning from injury along with five-eighth Dan Carter.
star Israel Dagg secured the fullback role ahead of veteran Mils
Miliaina who has so far failed to reach his best this season.
Weepu was preferred in the often-contentious halfback role, ahead of
Jimmy Cowan and Andy Ellis, and Adam Thomson bumped out Victor Vito at
No.8 in Read’s absence.
Richard Kahui, usually a centre, has nailed down a wing spot after some impressive performances.
Sam Whitelock will partner Brad Thorn at lock ahead of the far more
experienced Ali Williams, who has failed to show real impact and goes to
the bench with another lock, Anthony Boric.
Asked if this was his No.1 team, the cagey Henry said: “For this particular opposition, I think it’s the best team.”
Henry said it was difficult to tell the off-form Muliaina he wasn’t picked for France.
The pair have known each other since Muliaina played in the same Auckland secondary school while Henry was the principal.
selection is on form at this particular moment,” Henry said. “It’s
difficult for Mils, he’s been a high quality player for a long time for
the All Blacks.
“There was a lot of emotion involved in this
decision. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to go with your best
team and we’ve gone with Israel.”
Henry swept aside talk of
France picking a substandard team without some key players starting and
usual halfback Morgan Parra at five-eighth.
“This French side
will be a very difficult side to beat,” Henry said. “They’re a big side,
very physical, got a very mature pack and got some outstanding,
“We’ve got a lot of history with them in the
World Cup, and there’s been a lot of pain for some people, and we don’t
want to go through that pain again.”
McCaw, Carter and loosehead
prop Tony Woodcock started in the 2007 quarter-final loss to France,
while reserve forwards Andrew Hore and Ali Williams also played in that
match in Cardiff.