Sonny Bill to join All Blacks squad after Rio Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO – Sonny Bill Williams will have little time to celebrate should he help New Zealand’s sevens squad win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics after he was named in the All Blacks squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship on Monday.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has kept faith with the bulk of the squad that swept Wales in a three-test series in June, though Damian McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu have been dropped and Charlie Ngatai was not considered due to concussion symptoms.
With the Olympic sevens tournament running from Aug. 9-11, Williams is expected to miss the Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Sydney on Aug. 20 but be available for the second test against the Wallabies in Wellington a week later.
Williams also missed the Wales series due to his sevens commitments.
Hansen, who last week extended his contract with the world champions through the 2019 World Cup in Japan, said that while winning the Rugby Championship was the primary goal it was also important to develop understanding in the squad.
The All Blacks became the first team to win successive World Cups last year but were then faced with the problem of replacing a raft of senior players, including all-time greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, who retired after the tournament in England.
While they do not appear to have skipped a beat, Hansen said there was still work to do if they were to recapture the Rugby Championship crown from Australia.
“One is to re-establish our team, from a leadership and playing point of view,” Hansen said of the team’s goals in a New Zealand Rugby statement on Monday.
“The second goal is to grow the understanding and confidence of our newer players, both on and off the track; and thirdly, we want to play a standard of rugby that we can all be proud of and excited by.
“The quality of the opposition we’ll face… will require a growth in our physicality, intensity and the standard of our preparation. How well we do that will be reflected in our results.
“By the end of the tournament, we’d expect to have a greater understanding of where the 32 individual players are at, and their ability to cope and perform at test level.”
The All Blacks will kick-off a two-day camp on Auckland’s North Shore on Thursday, though the Wellington Hurricanes’ Dane Coles, TJ Perenea, Beauden Barrett, and Ardie and Julian Savea will not join up until after Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Elliot Dixon, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith -Reuters