Sonny Bill set for Crusaders debut
March 2, 2011
Sonny Bill Williams got in a quick boxing bout ahead of the new Super Rugby season © Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams will make his debut for the Crusaders in their emotional clash with the Waratahs on Friday after recovering from a stress fracture in his left leg.
The match, to be played at the Crusaders' new home of Nelson, will be the team's first since the devastating Christchurch earthquake of last week.
All Blacks centre Williams will partner Robbie Fruean in the midfield as one of two changes to the starting lineup who lost to the Blues in round one.
The other change sees Adam Whitelock, who played at No.12 against the Blues, move to the left wing to replace the injured Tu Umaga-Marshall.
There are two more changes to the reserves, with Tasman hooker Quentin MacDonald back from a knee injury and utility back Tom Marshall replacing Tyler Bleyendaal.
After an intensive training session at the Crusaders' temporary home at Lincoln College on Wednesday, Williams was not setting his expectations too high ahead of resuming his midfield combination with Fruean.
"I'm not sure," a guarded Williams said when asked whether he expected to feature throughout the third round contest. "I will push hard for as many minutes as I can. If the body's feeling good then it's feeling good ... if not, well it's a long year."
It has also been a long - and challenging - interlude for the Crusaders since their opening round to the Blues -- and naturally the earthquake has loomed large in the squad's psyche. Williams was in a central city pool when ripples transformed into waves; his central city apartment is also off limits inside the "four avenues" cordon - not that the four-cap All Black has been inconvenienced.
"I'm not going to stand here and say I know what (people in Christchurch) are going through because I did not lose a loved one," he said. "I don't think too many of the (Crusaders) boys lives are back to normal but there are a lot of people worse off than us down here. I count myself lucky and I know the rest of the boys do too."
Although the Canterbury provincial team and the Crusaders are only conduits for Williams to achieve his goal of competing at this year's World Cup, the Aucklander said the experience of two earthquakes and the Pike River mining disaster fostered an affinity with the region.
And he has been in Canterbury long enough to realise the significance of the outcome on Friday at Trafalgar Park. "This is definitely a game for the Canterbury people and hopefully it will take their minds off what has been happening around them for 80 minutes," he said. "We have to go back to normality and be the big, strong rugby players that we are."
Now living with a mate in a secure part of Christchurch, Williams revealed he resisted demands from his mother Lee to join her in Auckland. "I got the texts about the cheap flights, she was dropping big hints but I've got a few things I need to sort out down here. Playing some good rugby is one of them."
Meanwhile, the Waratahs backline was weakened by the news fly-half Berrick Barnes will be rested as a precautionary measure after taking a headknock in his side's 30-6 victory over the Reds in round two. Daniel Halangahu will play at No.10.
The match will be played at Trafalagar Park in Nelson after being transferred from AMI Stadium. The Crusaders players will be wearing the red and white jersey of the West Coast for the match in tribute to the 29 workers who lost their lives at Pike River. The special edition jersey features the West Coast Rugby Union emblem alongside the Crusaders logo.
In other news, Luke McAlister will get his first start of the Super Rugby season after being named at fly-half for the Blues' clash with the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday. McAlister, who missed the first round victory over the Crusaders because of concussion but came on during the 12-26 defeat in Durban, replaces Stephen Brett, who is among the reserves.
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