Big names on Kiwi bench
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Crusaders backline general Ryan Crotty has been preferred to Sonny Bill Williams in New Zealand’s starting XV.
Crotty will marshall the All Blacks in their blockbuster World Cup opener against South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday.
Williams has been relegated to the bench – as has Ben Smith.
Coach Steve Hansen stayed with his twin playmaker system – Beauden Barrett at fullback and Crotty’s Crusader’s teammate Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf.
“Any combination of players in our squad could have justified their selection,” Hansen said, as he named his side on Thursday for the opening Pool B clash involving two of the tournament favourites.
“But in the end, we believe the 23 we have selected is the right group for this opposition,” added Hansen.
“In today’s rugby environment, you need to have the mindset that it’s not just about who starts, it’s also about what the players coming off the bench can provide.”
There is only one change in the forwards to the pack that demolished Australia 36-0 last month, with Scott Barrett joining Sam Whitelock in the second row.
The starting front row is made up of props Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala with Dane Coles at hooker while the loose forwards are the experienced trio of Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read.
Shannon Frizell, who has rushed to Japan a week ago as a late replacement, wins a place on the bench.
Aaron Smith lines up at scrumhalf with Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge and Sevu Reece completing the backline.
“Our focus has been building throughout the week. We’ve had a very good week’s training in the heat and rain here in Tokyo,” Hansen said.
“The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening Test [of the World Cup] has us excited and energised by what lies ahead. Each time we play South Africa, it’s a tight battle and a real arm wrestle.”
“To perform at our very best, we’ll have to play with real clarity, intent, energy and clear heads. Both teams will have their moments and it’ll be our job to ensure we limit theirs and take full opportunity of ours.”
No more than two points have separated the two sides in their last four Tests with New Zealand winning two, South Africa one and their most recent encounter was a 16-16 draw.
Hansen said the All Blacks have had a fantastic build-up in Japan since arriving 10 days ago and there was a keen sense of excitement and anticipation.
“Since transferring from our camp in Kashiwa to Tokyo we have moved into Test match mode this week and our focus has been building throughout the week.
“We’ve had a very good week’s training in the heat and rain here in Tokyo, the facilities have been excellent and our Japanese hosts have been outstanding.”
Hansen said it was the perfect Test match to open the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup campaign.
“This is where we want to be and we’re all looking forward to the challenge.”
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Ben Smith.
Date: Saturday, September 21
Venue: International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City
Kick-off: 18.45 (21.45 NZ time; 11.45 SA time; 09.45 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)