All Blacks name team to play Tonga
The All Blacks side to play Tonga in their final Pool match of Rugby World Cup 2015 at St James' Park, Newcastle, on Friday 9 October (Kick-off: 8.00PM) has been named, with midfielder Ma'a Nonu to play his 100th Test match.
The team is: (with Test caps in brackets):
1. Tony Woodcock (117)
2. Dane Coles (32)
3. Owen Franks (74)
4. Luke Romano (21)
5. Samuel Whitelock (69)
6. Jerome Kaino (63)
7. Sam Cane (27)
8. Kieran Read (80) - captain
9. Aaron Smith (43)
10. Daniel Carter (108)
11. Waisake Naholo (2)
12. Ma'a Nonu (99)
13. Conrad Smith (90)
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder (4)
15. Ben Smith (44)
16. Keven Mealamu (128)
17. Wyatt Crockett (43)
18. Ben Franks (44)
19. Brodie Retallick (43)
20. Liam Messam (42)
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (17)
22. Beauden Barrett (32)
23. Sonny Bill Williams (29)
Nonu, who made his All Blacks Test debut in 2003, has had 83 Test starts in his stellar career, scored 29 tries and is the most capped All Blacks second five-eighth. He will become the All Blacks sixth Test centurion on Friday and will line up alongside three of those centurions: hooker Keven Mealamu, prop Tony Woodcock and first five-eighth Daniel Carter.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: "On behalf of the All Blacks, we would like to congratulate Ma'a on this special milestone. He has been an incredibly valued member of our group for a very long time. He has been fully committed to enhancing the All Blacks jersey and the values that go with it. He plays a special part within the group and loves this team. He and his family will be very proud of everything he's achieved, as we all are of him. We look forward to celebrating his achievement on Friday night."
Skipper Richie McCaw (sore hip) and prop Charlie Faumuina (tight hamstring) weren't considered for selection. In McCaw's absence, the side will be captained by number eight Kieran Read. Loose forward Liam Messam will also make his first appearance at the Rugby World Cup off the bench.
Hansen said the squad has prepared well for the Tonga Test.
"We've had a very heavy workload in the last two weeks on the training pitch and a couple of very physical games, which has been great. But this week we've been looking to freshen the group up and really concentrate on the key parts of our game that we expect will deliver a quality, 80-minute performance on Friday night. We're now getting to an exciting part of the competition -one game out from knockout footy.
"We know the Tongans will be very physical and bring everything to this final Pool match. They're a proud nation who we've faced on a number of occasions. One only has to remember their last Pool match against France in 2011 to know that if you don't turn up, they will make life difficult for you."
Hansen said the squad has enjoyed their time in the north-east English town of Darlington and was looking forward to the Newcastle Test.
"Playing at St James' Park, the home of Newcastle United, will be a special occasion as there is a lot of history surrounding the park and the club. They've had some great players and coaches over the years - Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley and Kevin Keegan, to name a few - and we look forward to bringing our game to their special home.
"I'd also like to also acknowledge the folks at the Darlington Mowden Park RFC who provided outstanding training facilities for us this week. Mowden Park is one of the best we've had the privilege of using anywhere in the world.
"Finally, I'd also like to give a shout out to the people of Darlington who've been very welcoming. I know the boys have enjoyed their stay in this area and it's been great meeting up with our fans here in the north east. We look forward to repaying their hospitality at our public event at Mowden Park on Thursday morning."
Key points of interest
* The All Blacks have played Tonga four times, three times at Rugby World Cup: in 1999, 2003 and most recently, in the opening match of Rugby World Cup 2011.
* As well as Nonu's 100th Test match, several other All Blacks will reach milestones this Friday: Owen Franks will play his 75th Test and Samuel Whitelock will play his 70th. Conrad Smith played his 90th Test last week, while Kieran Read played his 80th Test. Read will become the 10th equal most capped All Black of all time this this week (alongside Justin Marshall).
* The All Blacks matchday 23 for the Tonga Test has an average age of 28 and has 1,251 Test caps of experience