Sonny Bill Williams’ (SBW) starting return will headline an experimental All Blacks side that takes on the United States in Chicago this week.

SBW is expected to mark his return to All Blacks at sold-out Soldier Field…  Rather than be eased in from the bench, (SBW) Williams is expected to mark his return to the All Blacks – after a more than two-year absence in the NRL – by donning the No 12 jersey and teaming up with Ryan Crotty in the midfield at a sold-out Soldier Field.

Malakai Fekitoa started the past three tests in the previously foreign second five-eighth role.

SBW produced some fine attacking moments – notably scoring the match-winning try against the Wallabies in Brisbane – but adjusting to the different defensive lines remains a work in progress. This week presents the chance to give him a breather, which would also allow Williams to create added competition.

After a rigorous test campaign, and with the USA expected to offer minimal resistance, several experienced figures could be given the chance to recover ahead of the genuine English challenge at Twickenham the following week. Those players may include Conrad Smith, Richie McCaw, Aaron Smith, Dane Coles, Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks.

McCaw’s probable absence offers the opportunity to further grow Kieran Read’s leadership.

The world-class No 8 has captained the All Blacks seven times but not since the Bledisloe Cup victory in Dunedin almost 12 months ago. Read would benefit from having another chance to lead the team – and Sam Cane more than deserves a start at openside flanker.

First-five is sure to be another talking point with Aaron Cruden set to start over Beauden Barrett and Dan Carter.

It will be Cruden’s first appearance since copping a two-week suspension after missing the team’s flight to Argentina, and being left out of the Brisbane test in order to have time to overcome his embarrassment. Cruden will also rekindle the influential partnership he formed with (SBW) Williams at the Chiefs.

Carter could be included on the bench – in what would be his first test for 11 months – but that will depend on… Read More>