Sonny Bill Williams' return to the All Blacks has been halted by tonsillitis and All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen says his big midfielder is too valuable to risk against the Springboks on Saturday.
Williams couldn't train on Tuesday due to the illness and so his preparation for the test in Wellington against the old foe has not been of the required standard.
His misfortune puts a halt to his return from a shoulder injury which has kept him out of all rugby since the third test against France in June. After a wrist fracture and knee surgery, which limited his season with the Blues to six matches and forced him to miss the first two French tests, his latest issue could hardly have come at a worse time.
"He's had tonsillitis all week and it was whether we chucked him out on the reserves bench and flatten him if he has to come on and play 80 minutes or take the risk if he only has to play 20," Hansen said. "In the end he's too valuable to do that to. We've got a good replacement in Jack [Goodhue] so it was a no-brainer."
Hansen wanted to rest Goodhue, who started against France in Dunedin and the first three Rugby Championship tests of the season, but Ngani Laumape's knee injury against Argentina in Nelson last weekend has given the selectors little option to put the Crusaders centre on the reserves bench and start Ryan Crotty, back from concussion, and Anton Lienert-Brown, outstanding off the bench in the two wins over Australia and one against the Pumas.
"Jack has played four big games," Hansen said. "He's a young athlete and we wanted to give him a break. And of course the plan was to bring Sonny back off the bench. Unfortunately he's got crook… so Jack has had to come back. But ALB has been playing well, hasn't he, so he deserves his spot anyway."
The make-up of the All Blacks' back three – the returning Rieko Ioane on the left wing and in particular Jordie Barrett at fullback and Ben Smith on the right – is a consequence of what Hansen expects from the Boks. The dependable Handre Pollard's selection at No10 for South Africa ahead of the more attacking-minded Elton Jantjies is another indication that the visitors will be preparing to play without the ball.
"I think they'll kick the ball a wee bit at us," Hansen said. "It's an aerial game and we've got two big aerial athletes. We don't have to explain why Rieko is there – he's the best player in the world in his position, I think. It gives us some real genuine gas, and he's a good finisher."
Hansen couldn't resist suggesting South Africa, who have lost to the Wallabies and Pumas in successive weeks, should be favourites because they deserved to win the last time they met the All Blacks – a 25-24 win for the visitors in Cape Town.
The suggestion earned a wry smile from under-pressure coach Rassie Erasmus later, but attempting to claim the underdog status despite the fact they are the world champions and have been the No1-ranked team in the world since the end of 2009 is an important part of the All Blacks' mindset.
"If you sit there at the top and think 'ye-ha, things are going good here', you won't be there for too long," Hansen said. "Our mindset has to always be better than we were before."