Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: The All Blacks' bench is fully loaded

Sonny Bill Williams has the potential to turn the All Blacks into a devastating unit. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sonny Bill Williams has the potential to turn the All Blacks into a devastating unit. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Northern Hemisphere rugby should be trembling in its boots because an era is dawning in which their inept and often static brand of rugby will be left even further behind by the new breed of All Black super back.

Whatever you may think of Sonny Bill Williams the person - and his actions towards the Canterbury Bulldogs and Kiwis still sticks firmly in this craw - the footballer is a remarkable beast, who has the potential to turn the All Blacks into a devastating unit.

The size, power and skill of the All Black backline selected for next month's northern tour is something to behold. Williams, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Isaia Toeava and co represent a fearsome if somewhat unproven prospect. The All Blacks could throw the equally devastating Rene Ranger, Robbie Fruean and maybe even Richard Kahui into the mix, while Piri Weepu and Israel Dagg will figure when injuries are healed.

None of these blokes are the finished article, but they'll always be far too good for the northern pretenders.

So long as the wise heads of Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Mils Muliaina - superb players in their own right - provide the glue and guidance, the world is this team's oyster. The interesting question will be whether Graham Henry risks loading up the cannons, and perhaps tries a centre combo of Nonu and Williams.

We now have, I believe, the greatest collection of sheer backline talent that has ever been at the All Blacks' disposal. Put it this way: the bench should be fully loaded.

The selection of Gear over Ranger might have been based on the sort of evidence the New Zealand police used in the 1970s, but such decisions won't matter on next month's jaunt to Europe.

With the revamped rules working against teams whose instincts are to kick the ball away, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales can't live with the backs New Zealand rugby is producing.

As for Sonny Bill, he should think further on his praise for the fans who gave him confidence by supporting his transition into New Zealand rugby.

This king of new-age sporting narcissism showed no such loyalty to the Canterbury Bulldogs, the league club which nurtured his talent from a young age, and in the process he dumped on the Kiwi league team in a World Cup year.

Egged on by his new friends, Williams quit on the Bulldogs mid-season. In the unlikely event that he ever gives this a second thought, he should consider whether the Bulldogs fans deserved the sort of support from him that he is now enjoying.

This is of no matter to the All Black selectors however, if they trust that he won't affect the All Blacks with his errant nonsense.

Williams is a better second five-eighths prospect than Ma'a Nonu and even as one of his critics, I can't stop searching for Williams when he is on the field. The attraction is that you might see something magical every time he touches the ball although his defensive threat is reduced because he can't shoulder charge.

Nonu displayed his true colours when, without Carter running the show, he was distracted against Australia at Sydney last month and next to useless in supporting Aaron Cruden in his debut as a test starter.

Sonny Bill Williams, with injury problems seemingly behind him, is a way better footballer than Nonu anyway, and for all of his strengths, Nonu is the man most likely to stuff it up in a crisis. All the old misgivings about the Wellington blockbuster resurfaced in Sydney.

There will be no such concerns though when these All Black behemoths line up against the northern mobs.

* * *

New Zealand cricket has been on its deathbed, but who would have guessed the game would kick the bucket in Bangladesh.

That this whitewash loss is the blackest series result in New Zealand cricket history is a given. It's surprising that former Black Cap Simon Doull even mentioned coaching as a contributing factor in the debacle. Maybe Doull was simply clutching at straws in his distress.

Ian Smith got it right when he said that the blame lay firmly at the players' feet. A flamboyant 20 can do more for a Kiwi cricketer's bank balance than a well constructed 100, thanks to the arrival of the Indian T20 juggernaut.

Playing for New Zealand is no longer the be-all-and-end-all for our top players, which has put the game in danger of total collapse.

However, congratulations must still go to the valiant Bangladesh team, who overcame major odds to succeed.

* * *

The Commonwealth Games might be in bad shape, but not as bad as the actual Commonwealth itself. Can anyone explain what genuine common good this imperial leftover actually does?

The Commonwealth is an anachronism, which is why the Games holds little meaning.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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