Piri Weepu will make his 50th appearance off the bench

All Blacks Coach Graham Henry and his Assistant Coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith have today announced the All Blacks team for the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup against Tonga at Eden Park, Auckland, on Friday 9 September.
The team will be captained by Richie McCaw for the 62nd time, in his 99th Test, in a squad that is bristling with experience and balanced with rising stars of the All Blacks.

In the front row, the All Blacks most capped prop Tony Woodcock will pack down alongside 55–Test hooker Andrew Hore and Owen Franks.  Experienced locks Brad Thorn and Ali Williams, who were the starting locks against Tonga at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, will start their 20th Test together, while Jerome Kaino brings experience back at blindside flanker, and Victor Vito gets just the third start of his burgeoning All Blacks career at number eight.

Halfback Jimmy Cowan and playmaker Daniel Carter will start their 25th Test together while in the midfield, Ma’a Nonu moves out one position to centre to make way for Sonny Bill Williams, who gets his fifth Test start, at second–five eighth. In the back three, the selectors have picked Israel Dagg at fullback in his eighth Test, with the versatile Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava on the wings.

Meanwhile, the squad also features the first All Blacks appearance this year for lock Anthony Boric, who is on the bench.  Boric’s 2011 season ended prematurely after he suffered a foot injury during the Super Rugby Finals Series.  Halfback Piri Weepu also looks set to make his 50th Test appearance off the bench.

Commenting on the team to play Tonga, All Blacks Coach Graham Henry said: “There is real competition in a number of positions, at fullback and on the wings and other positions as well, and the selection of the starting XV reflects that.  Those players selected have now been given the opportunity which is exciting and they will all look to make the most of their chance.”

Henry said that it was important for to give the “backbone” of the starting XV regular game time together in the Pool Play matches, but balance it with the fact that other players needed to have the opportunity to get game time as well.

Henry added: “Everyone in the All Blacks squad is excited by what lies ahead and we have also been humbled by the fantastic support we have been receiving.  From the player’s visit to the small towns to the official welcome at Aotea Square and just the people we meet when we are out and about, there is huge support which is really special.”

The All Blacks have played Tonga three times, including at the 1999 Rugby World Cup and 2003 tournament. As well as Thorn and Ali Williams, Carter and Flynn also played against Tonga in the 2003 Rugby World Cup

Starting XV:
1.         Tony Woodcock (76)
2.         Andrew Hore (55)
3.         Owen Franks (24)
4.         Brad Thorn (52)
5.         Ali Williams (66)
6.         Jerome Kaino (41)
7.         Richie McCaw – captain (98)
8.         Victor Vito (8)
9.         Jimmy Cowan (47)
10.       Daniel Carter (83)
11.       Isaia Toeava (32)
12.       Sonny Bill Williams (7)
13.       Ma’a Nonu (60)
14.       Richard Kahui (12)
15.       Israel Dagg (7)

16.       Corey Flynn (14)
17.       Ben Franks (11)
18.       Anthony Boric (20)
19.       Sam Whitelock (18)
20.       Piri Weepu (49)
21.       Colin Slade (5)
22.       Cory Jane (26)

Number of Test caps in brackets