Crotty in ahead of SBW in strong All Blacks side to face Boks

Tokyo (AFP) –


Crusaders backline general Ryan Crotty has been preferred to Sonny Bill Williams to marshall the All Blacks in their blockbuster World Cup opener against South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday.

Williams has been relegated to the bench as has Ben Smith, with coach Steve Hansen staying with his twin playmaker system -- Beauden Barrett at fullback and Crotty's Crusader's teammate Richie Mo'unga at fly-half.

"Any combination of players in our squad could have justified their selection," Hansen said as he named his side on Thursday for the openng Pool B clash involving two of the tournament favourites.

"But in the end we believe the 23 we have selected is the right group for this opposition," added Hansen.

"In today's rugby environment, you need to have the mindset that it's not just about who starts, it's also about what the players coming off the bench can provide."

There is only one change in the forwards to the pack that demolished Australia 36-0 last month with Scott Barrett joining Sam Whitelock in the second row.

The starting front row is made up of props Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala with Dane Coles at hooker while the loose forwards are the experienced trio of Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read.

Shannon Frizell, who was rushed to Japan a week ago as a late replacement, wins a place on the bench.

Aaron Smith lines up at scrum-half with Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge and Sevu Reece completing the backline.

"Our focus has been building throughout the week. We've had a very good week's training in the heat and rain here in Tokyo," Hansen said.

"The challenge of playing one of our oldest and most respected foes in the opening Test (of the World Cup) has us excited and energised by what lies ahead. Each time we play South Africa, it's a tight battle and a real arm wrestle."

No more than two points has separated the two sides in their last four Tests with New Zealand winning two, South Africa one and their most recent encounter was a 16-16 draw.

New Zealand (15-1)

Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge; Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea; Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock; Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody

Replacements: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Shannon Frizell, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith.