Sonny Bill Williams will justify his retention at inside centre when the All Blacks meet England at Twickenham on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Williams played his first Test since the 2011 World Cup against the USA in Chicago last weekend, and while the opposition was poor, he looked like he had never been away.
The 29-year-old, who played rugby league for the Sydney Roosters in 2013 and 2014, scored two first-half tries, and made 132 running metres during the 59 minutes he spent on the field.
His ability to carry the ball strongly, beat defenders and offload in the tackle will be invaluable against England.
'We just think Sonny brings something pretty unique,' said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen when explaining why Williams will start ahead of Malaki Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty. 'We have seen him against lesser opposition and now we just need to see him against quality opposition. If he can do what he did the week before it will be good.'
Hansen has wisely opted to keep Aaron Cruden at flyhalf for Saturday's match. Dan Carter looked good after coming off the bench in Chicago, to win his first Test cap in a year, but to give him the No 10 jersey for the most important fixture of the All Blacks tour would be too risky. Another substitute appearance at Twickenham and Carter will be ready to start against Scotland next weekend.
Meanwhile, Fijian-born winger Semesa Rokoduguni will make his Test debut for England, with SA-born centre Brad Barritt partnering Kyle Eastmond in a new-look midfield.
The hosts will field a weakened pack, with props Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole, hooker Tom Youngs, and locks Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury all out injured. Second rower David Attwood, who left the squad earlier this week for the birth of his first child, will start his first Test since the tour to Argentina in June 2013.
England will take heart from recent results against the All Blacks. They famously won 38-21 at Twickenham in 2012 and led 22-20 after 60 minutes in 2013 before going down 30-22. And while Stuart Lancaster's men suffered a 3-0 series 'blackwash' in New Zealand in June, they came within three minutes of securing a draw at Eden Park and lost by a point in Dunedin.
However, it's unlikely an England team weakened by injuries, and playing their first match since June, will be good enough to beat the world champions on Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 31, England 7, Draw 1
In England: All Blacks 17, England 5, Draw 1
LAST FIVE RESULTS
2014: All Blacks won 36-13 (Hamilton)
2014: All Blacks won 28-27 (Dunedin)
2014: All Blacks won 20-15 (Auckland)
2013: All Blacks won 30-22 (London)
2012: England won 38-21 (London)
WILLIAMS'S STATS THAT MATTER
59 – The number of minutes he played against the USA in Chicago
8 – The number of times he carried the ball
132 – The number of running metres he made
6 – The number of defenders he beat
3 – The number of clean breaks he made
Source: New Zealand Herald
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Anthony Watson.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images