All Blacks back SBW
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
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.