Sonny Bill Williams out, Sonny Bill Williams in. For a brief couple of hours yesterday it looked like 2011 all over again.
Dedicated rugby fans will remember the shock of the 2011 Rugby World Cup when Dan Carter, Mils Muliaina and Colin Slade all hobbled out of the squad in the days counting down to the event.
After rookie flanker Luke Jacobson was ruled out of the All Blacks squad on Friday, another scare rippled around the echo chamber of social media yesterday with speculation the All Blacks had lost a key player just five days from the start of the tournament
Former World Cup commentator Hamish McKay sparked the rumour mill, saying second five-eighth Williams' withdrawal was imminent and that he would be replaced by Ngani Laumape, who was deemed unlucky to miss selection in the 31-strong squad.
McKay, the former TV3 sports anchor and rugby editor, reckoned: "How long before Ngani Lauampe is on the plane?"
MacKay told Newstalk ZB host Martin Devlin: "I trust my source absolutely. Watch this space. It's more than an injury-watch day — I think we're going to hear something break."
But the All Blacks swiftly shot down the speculation.
Williams has been recovering from a calf injury that forced him to miss the All Blacks' test against Tonga, but All Blacks officials told media in Japan that Williams is not returning to New Zealand. However, they have not yet elaborated on his injury status and whether he is in doubt for the All Blacks' opening clash with South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday.
Despite having played only 40 matches since the last World Cup, the injury-prone Williams has remained central to coach Steve Hansen's plans.
Hansen meanwhile noted that the New Zealand team have been swamped by locals wanting photos and his encouraged his players to go with the flow.
"You can get bogged down with that — or you can embrace it," he said yesterday. "These people are bringing all these teams into their country and they want to be part of it. If you go along with that then they're going to have a good time too.
"If you get asked [for a photo] just imagine if you said no to them. What does damage does that do to the game in Japan or the All Blacks? We have to make sure we enjoy the off-field stuff and that's part of it.
"So if you just smile and say 'konichiwa' [hello] and 'arigato' [thank you] ... you'll be okay."