The All Blacks' lineout has been below par at the rugby World Cup so far says lock Ali Williams, who hopes his return can coincide with an improvement in one of their least consistent facets.
Williams was looking forward to tonight's test against Tonga at Suncorp Stadium here, confident the stress fracture in his foot that saw him miss the first two games of the tournament would provide no problems.
The 22-year-old will play his first test for more than two months, packing down alongside the in-form Brad Thorn. There is speculation that the best-performed of the two against Tonga could well earn the starting berth alongside Chris Jack in a top 15 likely to be named for their final pool match against Wales.
An excellent leaper, Williams wanted to play his part in improving the New Zealand lineout, which lost too many throw-ins to both Italy and Canada.
"They haven't been 100 per cent and probably not at the level that we want them to be," Williams said.
"That's a good thing in a way because we can always improve. Different hookers offer different things, along with different props, different locks.
"I'm confident, along with the rest of the team, that they'll get to where they need to get to be."
Williams and captain Reuben Thorne sat through a relaxed press conference after arriving in Brisbane yesterday. Thorne insisted it covered a steely resolve to improve on their first outings against opponents who they believe will be committed and provide problems through their hard-driving forwards.
Adjusting to the heat and humidity compared to Melbourne through extra fluid intake would also be important, Thorne said.
"We certainly noticed it when we got off the plane this morning," he said.
"It'll be something we have to deal with but most of the guys have played here in the Super 12 in fairly decent heat."
Tonga suffered a major blow when inspirational captain Inoke Afeaki was ruled out after failing a fitness test on the knee he injured against Italy.
Afeaki, who played 91 NPC games for Wellington, was believed to be devastated after also missing the test against Wales which the Tongans came close to winning before going down 20-27.
No 8 Benhur Kivalu takes over the captaincy while Afeaki's younger brother Stanley comes in on the openside flank, pushing former ACT Brumbies regular Ipolito Fenukitau to the blindside.
Fenukitau was looking forward to following the edict of coach Jim Love, who has urged his players to regard the All Blacks as a group of individuals so as to not get overawed.
Love called for each player to try to better his opposite number.
Fenukitau's shift means he will mark Thorne.
"I'm looking at Reuben Thorne, I've played against him a lot when I was with the Brumbies," he said.
"I'm looking forward to performing well. Reuben Thorne is one of the best back-rowers in the world. But for me, to play against these guys is a good experience."
Fenukitau left for Japanese club Ricoh after the Brumbies won the 2000 Super 12 final.
He needed International Rugby Board clearance to play in this tournament, having represented Australia in sevens.
Kick-off is at 8.30pm (NZ time)
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Doug Howlett, Leon MacDonald, Caleb Ralph, Daniel Carter, Carlos Spencer, Justin Marshall, Rodney So'oialo, Daniel Braid, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Reuben Thorne (captain), Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Kees Meeuws. Reserves: Ben Atiga, Ma'a Nonu, Richard McCaw, Marty Holah, Chris Jack, Dave Hewett, Keven Mealamu.
Tonga: Sila Va'enuku, Sione Fonua, John Payne, Sukanaivalu Hufanga, Tevita Tu'ifua, Pierre Hola, Sililo Martens, Benhur Kivalu, Stanley Afeaki, Viliami Vaki, Usaia Latu, Ipolito Fenukitau, Heamani Lavaka, Viliami Ma'asi, Kisi Pulu. Reserves: Ephram Taukafa, Tonga Lea'aetoa, Milton Ngauamo, Edward Langi, David Palu, Sateki Tu'ipulotu, Gus Leger.
Referee: Pablo Deluca (Argentina)