WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand made five backline changes for Saturday’s Rugby Championship test against South Africa but the return of star centre Sonny Bill Williams has been delayed.
Williams was named on the bench Thursday to play his second test of the year, his first since June, after recovering from wrist and knee injuries. But the powerful centre, a star in both rugby and league, was forced to withdraw because of illness.
In a reshaped backline, Beauden Barrett returns at flyhalf after being rested for last weekend’s test against Argentina, reforming his halfback partnership with Aaron Smith.
Ryan Crotty takes over from the injured Ngani Laumape at inside centre after recovering from a head injury and Anton Lienert-Brown has been promoted from the bench to start at centre.
Rieko Ioane has recovered from a hamstring strain and will start on the left wing while Jordie Barrett joins the starting lineup at fullback, pushing Ben Smith to the right wing and forcing Waisake Naholo out of the team.
Jack Goodhue takes Williams’ place on the bench.
Among the forwards, Liam Squire returns at blindside flanker in place of Shannon Frizell who was the star of New Zealand’s 46-24 win over Argentina. Sam Cane reclaims the No. 7 jersey from Ardie Savea, also after recovering from a head injury.
Brodie Retallick is sidelined with a shoulder injury, allowing Sam Whitelock to return in a second-row partnership with Scott Barrett. In Retallick’s absence, Patrick Tuipulotu regains a place on the All Blacks bench for the first time this season. Hooker Liam Coltman is named on the bench in his third test.
Head coach Steve Hansen said New Zealand expects to face a fired-up South Africa team which has lost three of its last four tests, including its last two against Argentina and Australia.
“We’ve had a good week’s preparation here in (Wellington), focusing on what we need to bring to the game through our skill sets, the intensity of our play and our energy,” Hansen said. “We know that we’ll have to be at our very best in all these areas to counter an opposition we know will be desperate following their back-to-back losses.
“That means we’ll have to respond with a quality performance and a real hunger to be better. You just have to look at our last encounter in Cape Town (which the All Blacks won by a point) to understand what kind of beast we will be facing.”
South Africa was expected to name its team later Thursday.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Jack Goodhue, Damian McKenzie. (AP)