Rugby: Blow for Counties after Sonny Bill Williams injury

By Campbell Burnes

Sonny Bill Williams in action for Counties Manukau.
Sonny Bill Williams in action for Counties Manukau.

Darryl Suasua will now not need to have that potentially tricky conversation with Steve Hansen this Friday night about when, or if, he can access Sonny Bill Williams for the Steelers' Mitre 10 Cup campaign.

This follows Williams' season-ending Achilles Heel injury from this morning's shock 14-12 All Blacks Sevens' defeat to Japan at the Rio Olympics.

As most of the men's sevens team are heading almost straight back home after their programme finishes on Friday morning (NZT), there was some hope that Williams would have been available for Counties Manukau's opener against North Harbour in Albany.

Now the Steelers coach will just be hoping there are no further injuries in Rio to Augustine Pulu, who played 12 minutes, and scored an important try, in the subsequent victory over Kenya, or Sione Molia, who has officially joined the squad to replace Williams.

Williams remains on, and may forever stay on, two games for Counties Manukau, at the tail-end of the 2014 season.

Counties Manukau will play Northland and the All Blacks in the 'Game of Three Halves' on Friday night in Pukekohe, the main purpose of which is to give Hansen's charges a hitout ahead of their Rugby Championship opener in Sydney on August 20.

Suasua is trying to bring the Steelers swiftly up to speed with the new breakdown law trials, which have made jackling an endangered art form and will make the game even faster.

"It will still be a bit confusing for some of our Super Rugby players like, for example, Jimmy Tupou," said Suasua, speaking at yesterday's Mitre 10 Cup season launch in Auckland.

The Steelers defeated Samoa A 43-3 last Friday under the new laws.

"We did a lot of good stuff, but the game was quite scrappy with the new laws. It was also the first time for the Samoan boys too, but we scored some good tries," he said.

It was a hammer blow for the Steelers losing their two key props Nepo Laulala and Pauliasi Manu to season-ending injuries some time ago, so this Friday represents the last chance to impress before the Steelers begin their Premiership campaign with a crossover clash against North Harbour, who lowered them in 2015, in Albany.

"We don't look at it as a crossover game. You try and get points out of every game," Suasua said.

He was loathe to disclose who he thought might be the strongest contenders in the seven-team Premiership section.

"It'll be who adapts the quickest to these new laws. Coaches have different ideas. It could be the coach who comes up with the right formula first."

Kickoff on Friday night is at 5.30pm from ECOLight Stadium, with the Counties Manukau-Northland half being officiated under the new laws, but the halves against the All Blacks will be under the Super Rugby laws, a far from ideal scenario for the two provincial unions.

The All Blacks reassemble in Auckland tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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