New Zealand v Tonga, Rugby World Cup, September 9
SBW to start against Tonga
ESPNscrum Staff
September 6, 2011
Sonny Bill Williams surveys his option during All Blacks training, Churchie, Brisbane, Australia, August 25, 2011
Sonny Bill Williams will be determined to make a big impact on his World Cup debut © Getty Images

Former rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams has been named in the New Zealand starting XV for their World Cup opener against Tonga, on Friday.

The inclusion of the Williams in the All Blacks midfield at the expense of Conrad Smith sees Ma'a Nonu switch to No.13. In total, there are eight changes in personnel to the side beaten by Australia in New Zealand's last outing, in Brisbane last month.

Elsewhere in the back-line, Israel Dagg comes in at fullback for Mils Muliaina, while Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava replace Cory Jane and Zac Guildford on the right and left wings, respectively. Jimmy Cowan, meanwhile, has been preferred to Piri Weepu as Dan Carter's half-back partner.

Up front, Tony Woodcock has been passed fit start despite concerns over a hamstring strain so he retains his place at loose-head prop. He will be joined in the front-row by Andrew Hore, who takes over at hooker from Keven Mealamu, and Owen Franks.

Samuel Whitelock makes way for Ali Williams in the second-row, while the injury-enforced absences of blindside flanker Adam Thomson and No.8 Kieran Read mean that there are starts for Jerome Kaino and Victor Vito in the back-row alongside skipper Richie McCaw, who will be making his 99th Test appearance for his country.

All Blacks boss Graham Henry said of his selection: "There is real competition in a number of positions, at full-back and on the wings and other positions as well, and the selection of the starting XV reflects that.

"Those players selected have now been given the opportunity, which is exciting, and they will all look to make the most of their chance. Everyone in the All Blacks squad is excited by what lies ahead."

New Zealand: Israel Dagg; Richard Kahui, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Isaia Toeava; Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks; Brad Thorn, Ali Williams; Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Victor Vito.

Replacements: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Samuel Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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