New Zealand coach Graham Henry has given centre Sonny Bill Williams orders to stick to the game plan when he returns to the All Blacks fold.
Williams has been sliding off the selectors’ radar this year, so much so that he could not make the bench against Australia two weeks ago, but has been brought back for Friday’s World Cup opener against Tonga in a surprising midfield reshuffle.
Automatic first-choice inside centre Ma’a Nonu has been shifted out one place to make way for Williams with Conrad Smith pushed out of the squad altogether.
However, the recall of Williams has come with a proviso from Henry who said the rugby league convert was being given a chance to prove himself.
“The reason for the selection was to give Sonny Bill an opportunity and he’s got that,” he said.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen later in the tournament and who’s going to be standing and who’s not so we’ve got to give players an opportunity to play and to force their abilities on the selectors.”
He added Williams has been given the message about what was expected of him: “Don’t try to do it all in five minutes, the game lasts for 80,” he said.
“I think players are inclined, when they do get a chance and they haven’t played for a while, to try and push it too much, probably overdo it.
“I guess patience is going to be the key and if he does that and lets his natural abiity control the way he plays, I think he will play well.”
Williams refused to be drawn on his drop off in form this year, in which he started in only one of the five All Blacks Tests.
“Everything else is irrelevant to me” he said before deflecting further questioning about his form by repeating he was “excited” to play Tonga.
“I’m excited, really excited. I don’t know how many times you want me to say it.”
Standing outside Dan Carter and against minnows Tonga, Williams has every opportunity to shine with his back-of-the-hand offloads putting Nonu into space.
But a below-par performance may not help his options as he weighs up his playing future after the tournament.
“The World Cup is going to define this team and the people associated with it,” Henry added.
Hopefully this will be the last we see of SBW in the Black Jersey. I was optimistic when he arrived but he slotted right in here for the Crusaders. Had a great season for us in Red and Black. But now with all the saga over re-signing it is very clear what comes first. SBW. Giving a verbal agreement to the NZRFU then revoking that saying he will make a decision after the RWC. This gives NZ Super Rugby Teams 7 days to finalise before 2012 Squads need confirming. Most may not leave capacity in the Salary Cap to wait around for him. SBW is clearly using the RWC to promote his own worth, with no consideration the impact this has on teams and rosters for next years Super 15, that’s not good enough. My money is he’s off, just like he left the Bulldogs high and dry.
September 08, 2011| Flag Comment