Tonga and New Zealand will meet in the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup on Friday (NZ time) at Eden Park, Auckland. Kick off will occur after the World Cup opening ceremony at the same venue. There is some debate whether the Tonga rugby team perform their ‘haka’ sipi tau after or during the All Blacks haka.
The All Blacks have sprung a few selection surprises for the opening game. Andrew Hore starts and regular first choice hooker Keven Mealamu drops out of the 22. Other than that the forward pack selections were expected. However, it is the back selections that will make raise the most surprises. The electric Israel Dagg has kept 98 test veteran Mils Muliaina out of the 22. Sonny Bill Williams starts at 12 with Ma’a Nonu moving to 13 to accommodate. Midfielder Richard Kahui moves to the wing and utility Isaia Toeava on the other.
It isn’t clear why the coaches have gone for this selection. Possibly they wanted to start their biggest possible backline to absorb the impact of the massive Tongan team. Another theory is they wanted to give a couple of fringe selections such as Kahui and Williams some valuable game time early in the tournament. Coach Graham Henry admitted that there are still a few selection dilemmas in the backline. There is some concern amongst New Zealand fans that after four years’ preparation the coaches still don’t know what their first choice line up is.
Captain Richie McCaw will lead the team out on his 99th test, leaving co-record breaker Mils Muliaina stranded at 98. No All Black has ever played 100 tests.
Fri Sept 9 20.30 New Zealand v Tonga Auckland Eden Park
All Blacks Team to Play Tonga:
Israel Dagg, Richard Kahui, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Isaia Toeava, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Sam Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Colin Slade, Cory Jane
Tonga Team to Play All Blacks:
15 Vunga Lilo, 14 Viliame Iongi, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Andrew Ma’ilei, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Viliami Ma’afu, 7 Finau Maka (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Joe Tu’ineau, 4 Paino Hehea, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Reserves: 16 Ephraim Taukafa, 17 Alisona Taumalolo, 18 Kisi Pulu, 19 Sione Timani, 20 Samiu Vahafolau, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Alipate Fatafehi.