Jury’s still out on SBW, says All Blacks coach

2011-09-23 00:00

Auckland — All Blacks coach Graham Henry says “the jury’s still out” on Sonny Bill Williams but believes tomorrow’s Rugby World Cup assignment against France might provide the best test of his talents.

Having conceded the No 12 jersey to the irresistible form and experience of Ma’a Nonu, Williams made a significant move when he was named on the All Blacks bench for this premier Pool A match.

Henry has named his most powerful-looking side for this match and it seems Williams, on the back of his brief cameo as a wing against Japan last Friday, has finally convinced the coaches he has a bit of utility value to strengthen his claims for inclusion in the 22.

Asked what Williams offers now compared to a few weeks ago, Henry said: “I think the jury’s still out there. He did everything he could when he came on in the last game. He scored a couple of tries, created another couple, he did pretty well.

“But I think it’s a step up this game in quality of opposition, playing one of the top teams in the world.”

This will be Williams’s 10th Test and his fifth off the bench. He will be seen as someone who can cover both midfield roles and now wing at a pinch.

He sits on an interesting bench. The competition for places there is almost as intense as getting a spot in the starting XV. There are some high-profile casualties this week with halfback Jimmy Cowan, loose-forward Victor Vito and backline utility Isaia Toeava all missing out altogether.

Cowan has seen Piri Weepu get the No 9 jersey and Andy Ellis handed the back-up role on the bench.

Adam Thomson has surpassed Vito and has the starting No 8 and the selectors have named all four of their locks in the 22, meaning Sam Whitelock or Anthony Boric will cover the back row options rather than Vito.

And Williams gets the nod with his impact judged more valuable than Toeava’s ability to cover more positions.

There’s still room for Colin Slade on the bench too, giving specialist cover at No 10 and another option for fullback and wing.

Slade has held the confidence of the coaches despite a bit of a rocky performance against Japan last week.

Henry senses growth in Slade’s game. “… He’s just got to get into the groove. I thought he got better as the game went on last week. He’s been putting a bit of pressure on himself and I think that’s because he hasn’t played a lot of footy.”

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