Sonny Bill Williams will sit out this weekend's nationals but will probably play in the upcoming Wellington Sevens as he chases his ambition of winning Olympic gold in Rio.
Williams and Liam Messam are the only World Cup-winning All Blacks to target an Olympic spot and Williams spent the last three days in Cambridge in camp under coach Gordon Tietjens. He admitted he had already shed 3kg as a result of the gruelling training regime.
Messam will return to New Zealand from Japan later this month but is familiar with sevens having won gold at two Commonwealth Games. Tietjens said Messam could play in Wellington but the Sydney event on February 6-7 was a more realistic target.
Tim Mikkelson was today named as captain of the New Zealand side for the remainder of the world series in the absence of the injured Scott Curry (shoulder) but most interest was in Williams' progress in his transition from 15-a-side rugby.
He spent considerable time alongside Curry as he attempts to learn the vagaries of the game, especially as Tietjens plans to use the 30-year-old in the forwards. Tietjens, though, won't rush his introduction to the world series, especially as he knows the attention Williams will receive.
"He's really nervous and we want to give him time to grasp all the information before we put him out there," Tietjens said. "He could be in Wellington, and will more than likely be in Wellington. Remember, we are playing very experienced teams in the world series. We want to make sure he's really ready to go."
He should be able to adjust, given he's gone from rugby league to rugby union and back again twice. He's also dabbled in professional boxing in an extraordinary career.
"I have confidence that I will be able to pick it up eventually," Williams said.
"I know I have a lot to learn and know where I'm at but I have faith in my ability and what I can bring to the table."
It will be Tietjens' job to juggle the available resources. There aren't as many All Blacks as first thought when sevens was added to the Olympic programme, with most prioritising the All Blacks jersey over the prospect of Olympic gold, but the likes of the Ioane brother, Akira and Reiko, as well as Ardie Savea are also in the mix.
The New Zealand sevens side have endured a difficult start to their world series campaign, and are in the unfamiliar position of seventh after two of the 10 rounds after being hit by multiple injuries, but Tietjens has plenty of firepower to call on. He said he will put out different combinations in the next six rounds before settling on close to his Olympic squad for the Paris and London legs in May.
"Coming into this environment is a little overwhelming," Williams said. "I watched a lot of sevens last year and just seeing some of the magical things they can do... I'm a little bit starstruck."
It doesn't mean they get All Black treatment. Williams might be used to five-star treatment but had to cope with a bunk bed like the rest of the squad in sevens camp.
"No bullshit," Williams said of the environment. "It's just about getting the job done."
They should have a better chance of doing that with Williams on deck.