Sonny Bill Williams has been named to start for New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup third-place play-off against Wales in what is expected to be his All Blacks farewell.
Two-time world champion Williams has been linked with a return to rugby league via ambitious Super League newcomers Toronto Wolfpack once his contract expires at the end of the World Cup.
With Toronto confirming talks, Friday’s match against Wales is tipped to be the 34-year-old’s last in a New Zealand jersey after he came off the bench in the All Blacks’ shock semi-final defeat to England.
The bronze medal match at Tokyo Stadium in Chofu will be the scene of an emotional night for the dethroned All Blacks.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read will lead New Zealand for the last time before international retirement as head coach Steve Hansen prepares to depart.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 30, 2019
Outgoing boss Hansen has made seven changes to the starting XV, with Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty coming in for their international farewells.
“This was a tough team to select because, as always, everyone wanted to play,” Hansen said. “But with a short turnaround and the nature of the Tournament, we feel that this is the right team for this occasion.
“There’s been a lot of external talk around this being the game that no one wants to play. However, from our point of view, we can’t wait to play it. Everyone in the squad − players and management − are motivated by the opportunity to show that our last performance wasn’t at the high standard that we know we can play at.
“This is a Test match against an opposition that will also be keen to make a statement. Therefore, we will need to turn up with real attitude, intent and work ethic, and then execute our skillsets to the highest level possible. The game will be physical and fast as both teams will look to play to their strengths. We are looking forward to it and can’t wait.”
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett.
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