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Test bow for Williams

Former New Zealand rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams will make his All Blacks Test debut against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

The 25-year-old replaces Conrad Smith at outside centre in one of four changes from the team which lost 26-24 to Australia in Hong Kong last weekend.

Hosea Gear, who scored a hat-trick for the New Zealand Maori in their 35-28 victory over England in June, replaces the injured Cory Jane on the wing. Alby Mathewson will make his starting debut at scrum-half in place of Jimmy Cowan, while Samuel Whitelock takes over from Tom Donnelly in the second row.

The All Blacks have been tracking Williams since he walked out of his NRL contract with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008 and switched codes to sign for Toulon.

Williams played alongside Jonny Wilkinson last season and then returned to New Zealand in the summer, since when he has lit up the ITM Cup for Canterbury.

Smith drops out of the 22-man squad with a slight hamstring injury and Williams has big shoes to fill at outside centre.

"The midfield at the moment is world class with Conrad and Ma'a Nonu playing particularly well. He is going to have to bring a lot of skill and expertise to match that," said assistant coach Steve Hansen.

"We know he is a classy individual. We have seen him play very, very well in the ITM Cup. When he gets his opportunity we are going to have to see that same ability.

"He is a good ball-carrier, he is quick, he offloads. He has the whole package. We just have to see if he can do it at the highest level."

Meanwhile, injured scrum-half Piri Weepu has re-signed with the New Zealand Rugby Union and Hurricanes until after next year's Rugby World Cup.


From Belfast Telegraph