Williams earns All Blacks call-up
October 17, 2010
Sonny Bill Williams is the centre of attention at the All Blacks' squad announcement © Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams is the solitary new cap and Aaron Cruden the notable omission as All Blacks coach Graham Henry unveiled his 30-man squad to tour Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
While Williams' promotion to the All Blacks midfield was no surprise there were several intriguing aspects to the selection for a five-Test tour that starts with an offshore Bledisloe Cup match against the Wallabies next Saturday before the All Blacks tackle the third Grand Slam of Henry's reign.
Cruden's unconvincing performance in the most recent Test against Australia in Sydney last month has effectively ended his role as Daniel Carter's understudy. Waikato's Stephen Donald, who has not been required for Test duty this year, has been given an opportunity to resurrect his 19-Test career at 21-year-old Cruden's expense.
Donald, who has been influential for Waikato since his comeback from injury, has also been preferred over Canterbury's Colin Slade, who made an impressive debut in the final quarter against the Wallabies on September 11.
"We think he's gone up in his ability to play the game," said Henry of Donald. "He's been a major influence on Waikato's resurgence over the last month or so. He's a game breaker and game winner as you saw against (Cruden's) Manawatu (on Thursday). Cruden and Slade have played particularly well so it wasn't an easy phone call telling them they weren't in the team."
Donald is among a host of former All Blacks to earn a recall. Specialist openside Daniel Braid's return to Auckland from a two-season sabbatical in Queensland has been vindicated with his selection as Richie McCaw's back-up. Utility loose forward Liam Messam, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist last week with the sevens team, ousts Victor Vito - who, like Cruden, harbours bad memories from the Tri-Nations finale.
Hawke's Bay hooker Hika Elliot, who played the midweek match against Munster after joining the 2008 Grand Slam tour as a replacement for Andrew Hore, again owes his selection to the All Blacks' first choice hooker. Hore has been named despite not having played since dislocating his shoulder in the final round of the Super 14 in May.
It is hoped he will be available for the Home Unions leg of the excursion, so Elliot can contemplate a test debut in Hong Kong as Keven Mealamu's deputy providing the veteran recovers from a calf injury nursed since the end of the Tri-Nations. Sitiveni Sivivatu also tours on trust, eventually. The elusive wing first has to prove his fitness after shoulder surgery in two games for Waikato before ideally joining the squad in London.
Sivivatu's gradual return enabled Delhi gold medallist Hosea Gear to also ressurrect his All Black career while Israel Dagg's unavailability due to a thigh injury also strengthened the Wellington finisher's case for a recall.
Piri Weepu's broken leg against Taranaki yesterday caused a late selection headache and facilitated the naming of his Wellington team-mate Alby Mathewson and Canterbury's Andy Ellis alongside incumbent scrum-half Jimmy Cowan.
Utility back Isaia Toeava is the other former All Blacks to use the northern journey as a comeback trail, his timely two-game stint for Auckland since recovering from hip surgery gaining him the nod ahead of Williams' devastating midfielder partner Robbie Fruean.
Henry admitted Fruean was on the brink of selection as Conrad Smith's back-up at centre. "If there was another injury he would have come into consideration," he said, explaining Toeava's 26-test history and versatility warranted his inclusion. Isaia has the ability to play in the back three which is always so helpful and also second five-eighth. He's a proven test performer and his couple of games for Auckland show he has lost none of that ability."
Henry and assist coaches Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen opted for a 16-14 split between forwards and backs. "Regarding the make-up of the touring squad, we feel that we have got a very good rugby squad, well led by some very experienced All Blacks, and we are excited by the challenges that we have ahead of us," Henry said.
The 30-man All Blacks squad for the end of year tour to Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Ireland:
Backs: Andy Ellis (Canterbury), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Stephen Donald (Waikato), Hosea Gear (Wellington), Cory Jane (Wellington), Alby Mathewson (Wellington), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Sonny Bill Williams (Canterbury).
Forwards: John Afoa (Auckland), Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Daniel Braid (Auckland), Tom Donnelly (Auckland), Hikawera Elliott (Hawke's Bay), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Liam Messam (Waikato), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Sam Whitelock (Canterbury), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).
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