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Page last updated at 07:06 GMT, Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sonny Bill Williams to make All Blacks debut v England

England v New Zealand
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday 6 November Kick-off: 1430 GMT Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, text commentary and live scores on BBC Sport website, Live on Sky Sports 1; Highlights on BBC Three and online Sat 1930 GMT, and Sun 7 Nov on BBC Two and online 1130

Sonny Bill Williams trains with the All Blacks ahead of Saturday's game against England
Williams spent two years at French club Toulon after leaving rugby league

Former rugby league international Sonny Bill Williams will make his All Blacks Test debut against England on Saturday.

The 25-year-old will start at outside centre, replacing Conrad Smith in one of four changes to the New Zealand side beaten by Australia last weekend.

Hosea Gear takes over from the injured Cory Jane, starting on the left wing with Joe Rokocoko moving to the right.

Alby Mathewson makes his first Test start at scrum-half, replacing Jimmy Cowan; Sam Whitelock comes in at lock.

Whitelock takes over from Tom Donnelly in the only change to the pack.

Prop Ben Franks, lock Anthony Boric and scrum-half Andy Ellis come onto the replacements' bench.

It's an unreal feeling to be not only in the team this week but starting. It's going to be massive

Sonny Bill Williams

Williams turned down a lucrative contract to stay with French side Toulon earlier this year to return to New Zealand, with an eye on playing for the All Blacks at next year's rugby World Cup.

He will face a former New Zealand league team-mate at Twickenham in Shontayne Hape, who starts at inside centre for England.

"I will definitely have a yarn with him after the game," Williams told BBC 5 live. "But hopefully he is not happy when we are on the field, and we are the ones on top.

"He is a good man 'Haps', and a very good player, and definitely one we have to watch out for."

Williams is the first New Zealander to play both rugby league and union for the country since Marc Ellis, an All Black from 1992-1995.


Williams has impressed for Canterbury in the domestic ITM Cup in New Zealand, but All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said on Tuesday that the 6ft 4in (1.93m), 17 stone (108kg) centre was still adjusting to the tactics and game plan employed by the All Blacks.

"I'm still buzzing," Williams said on Thursday after learning of his selection. "It probably won't sink in until I run out there in front of 80,000 people on Saturday.

"A couple of years ago it just seemed so far away. It's an unreal feeling to be not only in the team this week but starting. It's going to be massive."

Head coach Graham Henry said he had first spoken with Williams about the possibility of playing for New Zealand a year ago when the All Blacks were playing France, and the player was still at Toulon.

"He said to me 'I'd like to play for the All Blacks but I'll only come back to New Zealand if you think I'm good enough,'" Henry revealed. "He's that sort of person."

His selection alongside the formidable Ma'a Nonu gives the All Blacks a powerful centre pairing, while Gear - whose brother Rico played 19 Tests from 2004-07 - starts only his second Test on the wing.

"Even my mother asked me why [Gear's] not in the All Blacks," Henry quipped. "My wife said I should pick him as well. So it was a foregone conclusion."

With second-choice scrum-half Piri Weepu ruled out of the tour through injury, Henry is also taking the opportunity to assess his World Cup resources by handing Mathewson his Test debut.

"We wanted to see how he could handle Test match rugby," Henry added. "Playing at Twickenham is a huge atmosphere, 83,000 capacity - it doesn't get much bigger than that."

"We just wanted to see how he would handle the situation and how other teams would handle him."

New Zealand have won their last eight Tests against England since June 2003, and have not lost a Test to one of the home nations in Britain and Ireland since a 31-28 defeat at Twickenham in 2002.

That was one of only six England victories in 33 meetings with the All Blacks since 1905.

New Zealand team: Mils Muliaina (Chiefs), Joe Rokocoko (Blues), Sonny Bill Williams (Canterbury), Ma'a Nonu (Hurricanes), Hosea Gear (Hurricanes), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Alby Mathewson (Blues); Tony Woodcock (Blues), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Richie McCaw (Crusaders, capt), Kieran Read (Crusaders).
Replacements: Hika Elliot (Hurricanes), Ben Franks (Crusaders), Anthony Boric (Blues), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Andy Ellis (Crusaders), Stephen Donald (Chiefs), Isaia Toeava (Blues).

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see also
Prop Sheridan returns for England
02 Nov 10 |  English
All Blacks wary of Foden threat
02 Nov 10 |  Rugby Union
Australia 26-24 New Zealand
30 Oct 10 |  Rugby Union
Wilkinson to miss November Tests
29 Oct 10 |  English
BBC to screen autumn rugby Tests
26 Oct 10 |  Rugby Union

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