Sonny Bill Williams may have to bide his time on the All Blacks’ bench, with Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith likely to continue their strong midfield combination through the Tri Nations.
Rugby commentator Tony Johnson, who believes the only real uncertainty surrounding the All Blacks’ backline is the make-up of their back three.
Williams will come off the bench against the Springboks, with Johnson suggesting the Crusaders star will probably find himself in a similar situation against the Wallabies the following weekend.
“I think they’re (All Blacks) going to go with the Smith-Nonu combination because that’s worked so well for them over the years,” Johnson said on Fox Sports’ The Rugby Club.
“It’s a proven combination but I think it’s great to have someone like Sonny Bill Williams coming off the bench.
“That’s just my gut feeling at the moment.”
While the Nonu-Smith midfield combination has, as Johnson says, been hugely successful for the All Blacks, both players struggled to find form in this year’s Super Rugby tournament.
Williams, on the other hand, formed an impressive midfield partnership with Crusaders teammate Robbie Fruean, the two strong ball runners wreaking havoc with opposition defences.
The former NRL star easily outshone Nonu across many of the major statistics, with his trademark offload the catalyst for some brilliant Crusaders tries.
Williams averaged 8.9 runs a game, compared with Nonu’s 6.7, leading to a comprehensive victory for the Crusaders centre in the average metres gained, too.
Williams averaged 73.1 metres per game while Nonu averaged only 47.
The combination of Nonu and Smith isn’t set in stone, but All Blacks coach Graham Henry appears to favour the Hurricanes duo as this stage.
Williams is sure to get a chance to start to start at some stage during the Tri Nations, and his trademark offload may prove too good for Henry to ignore as he looks to finalise his starting XV ahead of Rugby World Cup 2011.
Buford Balony says: Lets hope this is true, because SBW is the best centre in Rugby by a mile.