Tomorrow the All Blacks will ramp up their preparations for the first Rugby Championship match against Australia, but whether Sonny Bill Williams is involved still remains to be seen.
Williams did not train with the squad in Auckland on Friday, apparently due to a medical examination ordered by his new Japanese club Panasonic, and it is understood that he was again absent from Trusts Stadium in west Auckland yesterday as his teammates trained behind closed doors.
Although team management were hopeful of sorting out the wrangle as quickly as possible - Panasonic won't want Williams to play if there is a hint of injury or fatigue and there are insurance issues to be addressed - no official updates were available today and there was no guarantee that Williams would train tomorrow. The team for the match at ANZ Stadium will be named on Thursday and will travel to Sydney later that afternoon.
Coach Steve Hansen was reluctant to put a time-frame to resolving the issue but said that second-five Williams wasn't injured following his successful Super Rugby season with the Chiefs, adding he is suffering from soreness in keeping with the intense finish to the competition.
It's an unusual way to start the week of a test but probably in keeping with Williams' unorthodox style on and off the pitch. He was persuaded to stay for two more matches - next Saturday's and the return encounter against the Wallabies at Eden Park a week later - by Hansen following Conrad Smith's eye injury but the coach said he was confident either Tamati Ellison or Ben Smith could play at centre outside Ma'a Nonu if necessary.
Williams has not had a happy time against the Wallabies and is eager to finish his time in the black jersey on the right note. Two of his 17 tests have come against them but both of those came as a substitute in victories at Eden Park. The latter was in the World Cup semifinal victory when he came on for Nonu in the final minutes and was promptly sinbinned for a shoulder charge on Quade Cooper.
Hansen said Williams' absence from training wasn't an issue as the build-up wouldn't officially begin until tomorrow.
Other than the Williams' hold-up, preparations for the inaugural four-nation championship appear to be progressing to plan for the All Blacks. No injuries were reported from the short hit-outs against Auckland and Counties in Pukekohe on Friday night, with wing Julian Savea scoring a try in each run, prop Owen Franks spending time at lock and hooker Keven Mealamu playing flanker.
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- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick