All Blacks say 'common sense' to let SBW play

Sonny Bill Williams (Gallo Images)
Sonny Bill Williams (Gallo Images)

Wellington - The All Blacks on Friday said it was "common sense" to let Sonny Bill Williams play the Rugby Championship opener against Australia, after World Rugby expressed surprise that his ban over a red card had been lifted on appeal. 

New Zealand's relief that their star centre could play was in contrast to reaction of the sport's governing body, World Rugby, which took the unusual step of issuing a statement raising concerns about the decision by an independent panel. 

World Rugby vice-chairperson Agustin Pichot even tweeted: "I don't agree on the decision of the independent pannel (sic) towards sbw's (Williams') case." 

Williams was hit with a four-week ban - equating to four matches - for an illegal shoulder charge in last month's second Test against the British and Irish Lions. 

The original judicial panel accepted three of the matches the double World Cup-winner would miss but said the fourth did not meet the threshold of a "meaningful" match. 

The game in question is on August 11, when the All Blacks will play a warm-up against both Counties Manukau and Taranaki, one half against each team. 

"We were appealing the interpretation of that match being meaningful," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster told Radio Sport. 

"From a common-sense perspective it's a game we play 80 minutes under the normal rules of rugby. The reason we play two teams is because it makes the game harder for us. 

"Fortunately we felt for us, common sense prevailed," he said. 

Foster said he sympathised with World Rugby as it wrestled with the issue of weeks of suspension and the significance of the games involved. 

But he said Williams was always going to play in the Counties-Taranaki fixture, a week before the Australia Test, as he needed the game time after a season hampered by injury and the suspension.

The other games missed by Williams are the third Lions Test, the Auckland Blues' final Super Rugby match against the Sunwolves, and a New Zealand provincial championship pre-season match. 

"What World Rugby quite correctly keeps a close eye on is to make sure there's not games (in the suspension period) that really the player would not have intended to play," he said. 

"We understand that and we agree with that. 

"We were assessed on the All Blacks versus Counties-Taranaki game and we feel the right decision's come. That's a significant game and it is a very meaningful one for Sonny and that matters under the laws." 

In its statement, World Rugby said it would refer the matter to its regulations committee in September to "ensure universal clarity" on the rules surrounding suspensions.

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