The All Blacks are working hard to get suspended Sonny Bill Williams back for the Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Sydney but much depends on whether Counties Manukau pre-season matches - and even a match for a tiny south Auckland club - count as part of his suspension.

Williams was given a four-week ban for his shoulder charge on British and Irish Lions wing Anthony Watson in the first half of the All Blacks 24-21 loss in Wellington, but the nature of World Rugby's regulations means the ban is actually four matches.

Williams, whose apology to Watson was accepted by the Englishman, missed last weekend's draw at Eden Park, which tied the series, and is unavailable for the Blues' final Super Rugby match against the Sunwolves in Tokyo today.

The other two games that Williams could theoretically miss before being available to play for the All Blacks against the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium in Sydney are not immediately obvious.


Williams plays for Counties Manukau in the Mitre 10 Cup and in theory two of the Steelers' pre-season matches could count as part as of his suspension.

All Blacks management are seeking clarity with World Rugby about what constitutes a "match", and the selectors will be hoping the big midfielder, the first All Black in 50 years to be shown a red card, is available not only for the test against the Wallabies but also his team's hit-out the week before at Pukekohe against Counties Manukau and Taranaki, the so-called "game of three halves".

Under World Rugby's regulations, all matches - from club to tests - are equal.

Pre-season also games count as competitive matches. In November 2012, All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore was suspended for five weeks for striking Wales lock Bradley Davies in the opening minutes of a test in Cardiff, and was later suspended for five weeks. Hore missed the next week's test against England at Twickenham, and the Highlanders' first Super Rugby match of the 2013 season. The other three weeks were chalked up to the Highlanders' pre-season matches.

The Weekend Herald can also reveal a potential complicating factor in Williams' situation is that he is registered with the tiny Puni Rugby Club, between Waiuku and Pukekohe, which has only two teams - an under-eights and a Premier 3 team, who happen be involved in a playoff match today and could have selected Williams but for the ban. That playoff could become part of Williams' ban.

Williams registered with the club when he returned from his second stint at the NRL in 2014 and signed with Counties, under coach Tana Umaga, now his coach at the Blues.

Puni Rugby club president Paul Paranihi told the Weekend Herald of how Williams, a global star for his deeds in the NRL and for the All Blacks, Kiwis and in the boxing ring, came to sign with his club. "We had a club delegates meeting and I said 'he can come to Puni', and that's how it started," he said.

Paranihi said he had never met Williams, but was looking forward to doing so and welcoming him to the club properly. "We'd love it if he could come one day and see the kids not only from our club but from the entire Counties area."


Williams played a club game for Belfast in Christchurch when he signed with Canterbury and the Crusaders from French rugby in 2010, but hasn't played at such a grassroots level since.