NZRU open to Williams return - but no guarantee
April 10, 2013
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen warned that overseas players might struggle to retain their places © Getty Images
The New Zealand Rugby Union insist they would welcome back Sonny Bill Williams but insist the headline-grabbing former All Blacks star would not be offered any selection guarantees.
Williams was a key figure in New Zealand's victory at the 2011 World Cup but quit union a year later to move back to rugby league having made his name in Australia's National Rugby League competition. However, as is his preference, Williams only signed a one-year deal with the Sydney Roosters with reports already linking him with a return to the Chiefs with whom he won the Super Rugby title in 2012.
Chiefs boss Dave Rennie recently revealed his side hope to re-sign the 27-year-old and the NZRU have revealed they remain in touch with the player but there was no agreement of any kind in place.
"The coaching staff and contracting team work very hard to have positive exit relationship with all our players and coaches," NZRU chief executive Steve Tew told reporters at a media conference confirming All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's contract extension through to the 2015 World Cup.
"The door stays open and we communicate with them on a regular basis. But they know the rule, if you're not in the country then you can't be an All Black. If you want to come back then the door is always open. In Sonny's case, he's the same as everyone else. If he comes back fantastic. If he doesn't we respect that."
Tew added: "He's got a plan in mind but there are a couple of options inside that plan and we'll have to wait and see which one he decides to take. Sonny Bill is one of those guys who focuses very much on what he's got in front of himself now. He leaves some of the forward thinking to other people who we are also talking to. But there's no deal done. All we've said is 'When you came here you were up front. You did a fantastic job for us and we'd love to have you back one day'."
Hansen has also reaffirmed his support for the NZRU's stance on not selecting New Zealand players playing overseas. The likes of Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richard Kahui, Adam Thomson and Anthony Boric have all announced they are heading overseas and Hansen said he had "no problem" with players leaving or with them coming back but warned getting another shot at the black jersey might not be quite so easy the second time.
"The issue they have is they are going to a rugby competition that doesn't have the same intensity as Super Rugby or the All Blacks and they are giving someone else the opportunity to step into their All Black jersey and that's pretty dangerous," said Hansen. "It doesn't mean to say they can't do it. But it does put a question mark."
NZRU rules state that a player must participate in Super Rugby to be considered for the first squad of the year and ITM Cup participation is usually required for players who miss that initial squad to be considered for the end of year tour. But Hansen admitted that players who only returned in a World Cup year ran the risk of missing out.
"For some guys it won't be [too late to prove themselves] but for other guys it might be," he said. "They run a risk. But we've also said the door will be open. If they come back and play Super Rugby and they play well enough to the point where they are demanding selection then they'll get selected."
That same policy applies to Kahui's All Blacks hopes for the three Tests against France in June. "Our primary role is to pick the best side we can," said Hansen. "If Richard was to be playing out of his skin and be by far and away the best player in his position in the country then we are duty-bound to pick him. But if he's only playing as well as someone else and that someone else is staying in the country then we've got to make a decision for the future."
Hansen expects Kaino to be back "at some stage" too. "He's got a two-year contract. I can't see him breaking that. He's rung me and I've rung him on a couple of occasions. We've had general conversations about rugby, life, family. He's talked about how he's feeling. But again you just have to wait and see what happens."
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup