All Blacks back SBW

Taranaki Daily News - - Front Page - Richard Knowler in Lon­don

The All Blacks se­lec­tors are happy to play a game of trust with Sonny Bill Wil­liams.

As­sis­tant coach Ian Fos­ter ac­cepts Wil­liams, 33, is yet to peak even as the sea­son en­ters its twi­light phase, but the All Blacks will use the big mid­fielder’s ap­pli­ca­tion at train­ings as a barom­e­ter of his form and don’t be­lieve his fit­ness has been un­der­mined by a paucity of min­utes in test foot­ball.

Wil­liams, who played his

50th test against the Wal­la­bies in Yoko­hama on Oc­to­ber 27, is clearly the se­lec­tors’ pre­ferred op­tion at No 12 but the ma­jor is­sue has been get­ting him on the field.

In­juries have re­stricted the for­mer NRL star to just four test ap­pear­ances and 245 min­utes for the All Blacks since he started the third match against France in Dunedin on June 23. He ap­peared in just six of the Blues’ 16 games in Su­per Rugby.

‘‘He is still find­ing his top form, I think that it is a fair thing to say,’’ Fos­ter said of Wil­liams.

‘‘The other ones [mid­field­ers in the squad], when­ever they have gone out, they have done a re­ally good job. I have been de­lighted by the four of them.’’

Jack Good­hue, Ryan Crotty and An­ton Lienert-Brown are the other mid­field­ers on tour.

Logic sug­gests the All Blacks se­lec­tors are lean­ing to­wards start­ing Wil­liams and Good­hue in the mid­field against Eng­land in Lon­don on Sun­day, given the pair was pre­vi­ously named to start against the Spring­boks in Pre­to­ria on Oc­to­ber 6.

That game was billed as be­ing part of the All Blacks’ dry run ahead of the World Cup fi­nals next year, but the plan to start the new com­bi­na­tion was foiled when Good­hue was taken ill at late no­tice, and Cru­saders team-mate Crotty played cen­tre in­stead.

Good­hue didn’t travel to Ja­pan for the first two games of the north­ern tour, stay­ing in New Zealand to re­cover from glan­du­lar fever and fly­ing di­rect to Lon­don. He had com­pleted train­ing in Lon­don with­out com­pli­ca­tions, said Fos­ter: ‘‘There was a bit of fa­tigue at the end of last week, he’s had a cou­ple of re­ally good days of train­ing and looks like he’s 100 per cent.’’

The All Blacks se­lec­tors’ World Cup plans will al­ready be well ad­vanced and the Wil­liamsGood­hue setup, pro­vided each man is fit, is ex­pected to play a big part in the de­fence of the Webb El­lis Cup. The is­sue is get­ting them on the field at the same time.

Wil­liams’ of­fload­ing abil­ity, power-run­ning and abil­ity to hit hard in de­fence are clearly his ma­jor as­sets, but he has ei­ther been un­able to find his rhythm on at­tack or the game plans haven’t been tai­lored to his strengths.

Fos­ter said Wil­liams’ fit­ness lev­els were fine, not­ing that all four mid­field­ers were ‘‘jump­ing out of their skin’’, and also stated it wasn’t Wil­liams’ past achieve­ments that were keep­ing him in con­tention for a test start.

‘‘It is more based on how we see play­ers per­form in train­ings,’’ Fos­ter added. ‘‘When we look at the phys­i­cal na­ture of the game, we look at the way they are train­ing. Some­times things are go­ing re­ally good off the park and it hasn’t quite gelled to ex­tent that they want on the park.

‘‘Some­times play­ers get deemed as hav­ing a quiet game, but in re­al­ity they might not have had too many op­por­tu­ni­ties to show what they are good at.

‘‘We have got a whole lot of play­ers who have had sig­nif­i­cant in­juries and they have come back at var­i­ous de­grees of ac­cu­racy in their game.’’

‘‘He is still find­ing his top form.’’

Ian Fos­ter on Sonny Bill Wil­liams

no bowl­ing in games one and two against Pak­istan.

‘‘His bowl­ing loads were up and not too bad so it’s not like we have to start from scratch but we just have to get his heel right be­fore he has the abil­ity to run in and bowl again,’’ Stead said this week.

Colin de Grand­homme looks a safe bet for one all­rounder spot in the World Cup 15 and An­der­son could well join him, but if he’s play­ing solely as a bats­man it leaves Stead scratch­ing his head for squad bal­ance.

Stead and co-se­lec­tor Gavin Larsen could be tempted to in­clude five quicks and just one pace bowl­ing all­rounder, as Mike Hes­son did in 2015 when An­der­son was it.

Adam Milne or Ben Wheeler – an­other back from spinal surgery – both bat well and might be tempt­ing prospects as fifth quick.

Jimmy Nee­sham re­mains in the cup frame too af­ter com­pelling all-round form for Welling­ton but needs to con­tinue to fire with the ball.

Stead hopes An­der­son can be back on the field for North­ern Dis­tricts soon, and fea­ture more than just T20 cricket.

‘‘Corey played re­ally well [in the first two T20s against Pak­istan] and showed the power that he pos­sesses and ideally we want him to bowl be­cause it pro­vides an­other op­tion for us. He’s one of the few guys in New Zealand that has the gen­uine power to hold down a po­si­tion as a bats­man in T20 cricket.

‘‘He hasn’t had a lot of cricket in the last 12 months.

‘‘It’s about him spend­ing time in the mid­dle.

‘‘We want to see him in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions and get­ting through the other side of them as of­ten as he can.

‘‘We know Corey is an im­mense tal­ent and hope­fully he can get back on the field soon and prove he’s a vi­able op­tion for us at World Cup time.’’ in

GETTY IM­AGES

Sonny Bill Wil­liams hasn’t ex­actly been a shin­ing light in the All Blacks back­line this year, but the coach­ing staff are re­main­ing pa­tient with the big mid­field star.

Corey An­der­son’s in­jury is­sues have been likened to hav­ing a Fer­rari that al­ways breaks down.

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