Sonny, Bill Carter keys to watch against US
The pair have become something of special projects for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
WELLINGTON - The return of code-hopping centre Sonny Bill Williams and injured flyhalf Dan Carter will be what many rugby pundits will be watching when New Zealand play the United States in Chicago on Saturday.
The pair have become something of special projects for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on their four-match northern hemisphere tour as he fine tunes his World Cup plans less than a year out from the defence of their title.
Williams, who has spent two years playing for the Sydney Roosters in Australia's National Rugby League, has been fast-tracked back into the national squad to get him back up to speed in the 15-man game as quickly as possible.
The All Blacks have only five tests next year ahead of the World Cup and Williams, who won the title with the All Blacks in 2011, could have a key role to play with his ability to challenge defensive lines and offload in the tackle.
Local media reported that he had some minor issues with his timing and distribution at training ahead of the game at the Chicago Bears' Soldier Field.
Carter, the world's leading points scorer, was included on the bench after having barely played this year due to a six-month sabbatical then sustaining a broken leg in the Super Rugby final.
He has not played for the All Blacks since winning his 100th test cap against England last November and many expect that if he gets through about 30 minutes work on Saturday he will start against Stuart Lancaster's side at Twickenham next week.
The absence of Carter allowed Hansen to give Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett plenty of time to develop at international level over the last two seasons.
The All Blacks are keen to avoid the mistakes of the last World Cup when injuries left them down to their fourth-choice flyhalf in 2011.
In his quest to build depth ahead of the global showpiece, Hansen's team to face the Eagles will have a youthful and experimental look about it, with captain Richie McCaw and several other first-choice players rested.
"We have got to grow our team and this is a great opportunity to give some people some game time and give some other people a bit of a breather because it has been a busy schedule," Hansen told reporters in Chicago.
"There is an expectation that this group goes out to play and gives a high-class performance."
While the All Blacks are set to put out on an experimental team, US coach Mike Tolkin named what many see as his top side, which will be captained by robust loose forward Todd Clever and includes six players who have been released by their European clubs.
"Our selections were based more on how we wanted to play," Tolkin said in a statement.
"[The All Blacks] present a big challenge, so worrying too much about them would be counterproductive."
United States: 15-Chris Wyles, 14-Blaine Scully, 13-Seamus Kelly, 12-Andrew Suniula, 11-Brett Thompson, 10-Adam Siddall, 9-Mike Petri, 8-Danny Barrett, 7-Scott Lavalla, 6-Todd Clever (captain), 5-Hayden Smith, 4-Samu Manoa, 3-Olive Kilifi, 2-Phil Thiel, 1-Eric Fry
Replacements: 16-Tom Coolican, 17-Nick Wallace, 18-Mate Moeakiola, 19-Tai Tuisamoa, 20-Louis Stanfill, 21-Shalom Suniula, 22-Folau Niua, 23-Troy Hall
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-Nthan Harris, 1-Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Whatt Crockett, 18-Ben Franks, 19-Brodie Retallick, 20-Liam Messam, 21-Augustine Pulu, 22-Daniel Carter, 23-Julian Savea