Rugby World Cup favorite New Zealand made nine changes to play Tonga in the tournament’s opening match in two days, retaining only two of the seven backs who started last month’s loss to Australia.
Fly-half Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu kept their places in the starting lineup from the 25-20 defeat in Brisbane 11 days ago, with Jimmy Cowan, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Dagg, Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava replacing Piri Weepu, Conrad Smith, Mils Muliaina, Zac Guildford and Cory Jane. Nonu moves to outside center to accommodate ex-rugby league international Williams.
“We don’t know what will happen later in the tournament, who is going to be standing and who is not, so we have to give players an opportunity to play,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said in comments distributed by tournament organizers. “There is still some competition going on, which is good.”
Prop Tony Woodcock will start against the Tongans in Auckland after injuring his hamstring in training earlier this week, while Andrew Hore takes over from Keven Mealamu at hooker. No. 8 Kieran Read and flanker Adam Thomson weren’t considered because of injury and will be replaced by Victor Vito and Jerome Kaino. Ali Williams was named at lock, with Sam Whitelock dropping to the bench to cover the back-row positions.
NEW ZEALAND: 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Andrew Hore 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brad Thorn, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Richie McCaw (captain) 8. Victor Vito, 9. Jimmy Cowan, 10. Dan Carter, 11. Isaia Toeava, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Ma’a Nonu, 14. Richard Kahui, 15. Israel Dagg.
Replacements: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane