SBW shadow hovers over All Blacks picks

2016-06-23 10:00
Sonny Bill Williams (Getty Images)

Wellington - The return of cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams for the Rugby Championship has added intrigue to the third Test against Wales with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen overhauling the New Zealand line-up.

With the All Blacks 2-0 up ahead of Saturday's third and final Test in Dunedin, Hansen spiced up the dead rubber by rejigging almost every combination of his match-day 23 and including three debutants.

And he confirmed his tinkering with the midfield is directly connected to double World Cup winner Williams re-joining the squad for the Rugby Championship after he completes his bid for an Olympic medal with the Sevens team in August.

"We need to find out about some of these guys. We've got Sonny coming back after the sevens so obviously one of this group has to go," said Hansen.

Under the roofed Dunedin stadium, with a fast track assured, Hansen wants to complete the Wales whitewash while letting Rugby Championship rivals South Africa, Australia and Argentina see the depth of talent he has available.

Wales coach Warren Gatland, meanwhile, has stayed as loyal as he possibly could to his bruised and battered tourists, only replacing props Gethin Jenkins and Samson Lee with Rob Evans and Tomas Francis.

Jenkins is among six players side-lined by injury since the tour began but Gatland believes Wales are closing the gap on the world champions.

The only problem, he said, was that Wales tend to switch off for five or 10 minutes in a game and that's when the All Blacks punish them.

"We've just got to keep up that pressure and stop shooting ourselves in the foot by making some of those costly errors," he said on Thursday.

Hansen has changed five of his starting line-up with Elliot Dixon making his debut and centre George Moala getting a second cap 11 months after his debut against Samoa.

There are seven changes on the bench with the inclusion of uncapped flanker Liam Squire and prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

With the series won, Hansen described his revamp as "risk and reward", saying the time was right to blood new talent.

"If they can play at the high quality we're expecting them to play then it bodes well for us," he said.

The promotion of Moala, who is in the squad only because Charlie Ngatai has concussion issues, adds to the midfield puzzle.

Ryan Crotty has been named at inside centre for all three Tests with Malakai Fekitoa outside him in the first two and Seta Tamanivalu coming off the bench.

With Moala getting the nod, Hansen added to the intrigue by naming wing Waisake Naholo as centre cover.

Of the starting 15, the only stable partnership involves locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

Charlie Faumuina gets the chance to start a Test at prop, Beauden Barrett replaces the injured Aaron Cruden at flyhalf and Julian Savea, dropped for the second Test, earns a recall on the wing to replace Naholo.

Prop Wyatt Crockett is the only replacement to retain his place while hooker Codie Taylor, scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow and fly-half Lima Sopoaga appear on the bench for the first time in the series.

After Saturday's Test, the All Blacks return to their clubs for the remainder of the Super Rugby season. The Rugby Championship opener is against Australia in Sydney on August 20.

Read more on:    sonny bill williams  |  rugby


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