WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams and humbled flyhalf Aaron Cruden have been named in an experimental-looking New Zealand side to face the United States in their rugby test at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Saturday.
Williams, who was playing in Australia’s National Rugby League last month before crossing codes again to try to make the All Blacks’ World Cup squad, was named at his preferred inside centre position in the side to face the Eagles.
He had been expected to start in order for coach Steve Hansen to get him back up to speed in the 15-man game after he played a part in two games in New Zealand’s provincial championship before being selected in the squad.
Cruden had also been expected to come back into the side after being disciplined for missing the team’s flight to Argentina in September following a boozy night out.
The 25-year-old was supplanted by Beauden Barrett as the starter for the latter part of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship though he was brought back into the squad for the third Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane two weeks ago but not named in the matchday team.
His inclusion in the pivotal role means Daniel Carter will make his return to international rugby off the bench after he proved his fitness following a broken leg sustained in the Super Rugby final in early August.
Carter, the world’s leading points scorer, has barely played at all this year following a six-month sabbatical and slow recovery from the broken leg.
Rookie hooker Nathan Harris will also make his first start after he came off the bench against Argentina last month, while scrumhalf TJ Perenara also makes his first start in his eighth test as Hansen gives less experienced squad players some valuable game time.
Number eight Kieran Read will captain the side with openside flanker Richie McCaw rested and his understudy Sam Cane given the chance to start for the first time this season after seven appearances off the bench.
“It’s another chance for those selected to pull on the jersey and play well,” Hansen said in a statement.
“On this ... Northern tour, we want to give all the players in the squad the opportunity to grow their game - and we also want to develop our game as a team - and it starts on Saturday.
“While we are giving a number of players another opportunity this weekend, our expectation is that they will play to the highest level and we get a quality performance.”
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Cory Jane, 13-Ryan Crotty, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Charles Piutau, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-TJ Perenara, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Victor Vito, 5-Patrick Tuipulotu, 4-Jeremy Thrush, 3-Charlie Faumuina, 2-Nathan Harris, 1-Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Ben Franks, 19-Brodie Retallick, 20-Liam Messam, 21-Augustine Pulu, 22-Daniel Carter, 23-Julian Savea
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford