All roads lead back to Toulon as the All Blacks search for their World Cup masterplan.

For much of the past four months it was Carl Hayman the coaches courted, hoping he would return from Newcastle to give the All Black scrum the destructive edge it has been lacking since 2007.

Hayman instead took the money of Toulon's owner Mourad Boudjellal, leaving the panel on the hunt for someone else to give them the X-Factor - to take them from a good side to an extraordinary side.

That search hasn't moved out of Toulon as it is the bruising, tattooed frame of Sonny Bill Williams who could be the All Black trump card.

The panel wants him. They really want him but don't want to be seen to be too keen.

Defence coach Wayne Smith met Williams while the All Blacks were in Marseilles last year and was encouraged by what he found. "He was hell of a good company for a young man," says Smith. "He was very honest and very realistic."

Smith spelled it out for Williams. There are no guarantees of All Black selection; no easy route. It's a case of come home in June, play in the provincial championship, win a Super 15 contract and prove you are good enough to go up another level.

There will be some financial pain, too. The New Zealand Rugby Union can't - and won't - match the offer from Toulon.

It's possible some third parties will pitch in if Williams returns to New Zealand, keen to buy a slice of the man who was not so long ago the darling of the NRL. But Williams will have to feel some pain in his pocket if he wants the All Black dream.

Smith also made it clear the panel believe Williams can make the All Blacks. They have seen enough Toulon footage of him; heard enough from Tana Umaga - his mentor in France - and have enough of a gut feel to be confident the 24-year-old can make an impact wherever he goes.

At 1.93m and 108kg, Williams has the physique of a loose forward but the instincts and skills of a midfield back. He plays with his hands in front of him, always looking to pop out of the contact - a skill New Zealand's midfield has lacked since Umaga's retirement in 2005.

He's probably not a starting player. The Ma'a Nonu/Conrad Smith partnership has years of intuition and understanding and is a critical and established part of the All Black make-up.

Williams, though, could offer something radically different off the bench. He's the sort of player who could open a tight game with one act of brilliance.

Whether the prospect of so much hard work just to get to the All Blacks for a place on the bench at best can attract him won't be known till June.

Pushing him towards New Zealand is the fact Toulon have signed two up and coming French midfielders and want to use Williams more in the loose forwards. NRL clubs and British rugby clubs are also in the hunt.