Former rugby league international Sonny Bill Williams will make his Test rugby debut when he lines up in a monstrous All Blacks backline against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Williams, the mostly talked about player in New Zealand rugby this year, was named by coach Graham Henry on Thursday at outside centre and is one of four personnel changes to the side that lost 26-24 to Australia in Hong Kong last week.
“There is a resolve in the team to put in an improved performance this weekend and the team has worked hard on that this week,” Henry said in a statement.
“There is excitement in the camp as well, with the All Blacks playing England at Twickenham for the Hillary Shield always a marvellous occasion.”
Williams replaces Conrad Smith and joins Ma’a Nonu in a formidable centre pairing, while Hosea Gear and Joe Rokocoko were named on the wings. All four players weigh over 100kg each.
Gear is making his first Test start for the All Blacks since 2008 and will play on the left wing and replace the injured Cory Jane with Rokocoko swapping to the right wing.
Scrumhalf Alby Mathewson will make his first Test start and replaces Jimmy Cowan in the third change to the backline.
Lock Sam Whitelock replaces Tom Donnelly in the only change to the forwards from the Hong Kong match while prop Ben Franks, lock Anthony Boric and scrumhalf Andy Ellis come in on the replacements’ bench.
Williams, who turned down a reported multi-million dollar contract with French side Toulon to return to New Zealand with an eye on playing for the All Blacks at next year’s Rugby World Cup on home soil, will face a former New Zealand league team-mate in Shontayne Hape, who was named at inside centre for England.
15. Ben Foden, 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Mike Tindall, 12. Shontayne Hape, 11. Mark Cueto, 10. Toby Flood, 9. Ben Youngs, 8. Nick Easter, 7. Lewis Moody (captain), 6. Tom Croft, 5. Tom Palmer, 4. Courtney Lawes, 3. Dan Cole, 2. Steve Thompson, 1. Andrew Sheridan
Replacements: 16. Dylan Hartley, 17. David Wilson, 18. Dave Attwood, 19. Hendrie Fourie, 20. Danny Care, 21. Charlie Hodgson, 22. Delon Armitage
15. Mils Muliaina, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 13. Sonny Bill Williams, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Hosea Gear, 10. Daniel Carter, 9. Alby Mathewson; 8. Kieran Read, 7. Richie McCaw (captain), 6. Jerome Kaino, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brad Thorn, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Keven Mealamu, 1. Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16. Hika Elliot, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Anthony Boric, 19. Liam Messam, 20. Andy Ellis, 21. Stephen Donald, 22. Isaia Toeava