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Frustrated Williams raring to take on Wallabies in Sydney

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Frustrated Williams raring to take on Wallabies in Sydney

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – The likely return of Sonny Bill Williams for New Zealand’s Rugby Championship opener against Australia after a four-match ban on Saturday should be an opportunity for the centre to shake off more than a year of frustration. Williams was originally ruled out of the Aug. 19 clash when he was suspended following his dismissal for a dangerous shoulder charge on British and Irish Lions winger Anthony Watson in the second test of the three-match series last month. The 32-year-old, however, was cleared to play two weeks ago after a convoluted appeals process ended controversially with World Rugby expressing their surprise at the decision. All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said that with the process complete, Williams was now anxious to just get out and play against the Wallabies. “He’s certainly raring to go,” Foster told reporters in Sydney. “He’s done his four-game suspension. It’s been an awkward time for him, its been tough. “But he’s made sure that he has used that time smartly, he’s trained well and been able to get on top of a couple of niggles. “He’s back charging around, you’ve got to sort of hold him back a little bit.” New Zealand fans will be pleased to see Williams champing at the bit if he is selected, as expected, to partner Ryan Crotty in the midfield on Saturday. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been looking for a settled midfield partnership since the international retirements of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith after the 2015 World Cup and the Williams-Crotty axis was seen as their potential successors. Williams, however, chose to concentrate on rugby sevens last year and then ruptured his Achilles tendon in his first match at the Rio Games. That meant he had a late return to Super Rugby with the Auckland Blues this year and he looked rusty earlier this season. He has since battled a series of other niggling injuries but was working his way back into the rhythm of the game by the time he and Crotty started the first Lions test on June 24. Crotty’s hamstring injury during that game and then Williams’ red card, the first All Blacks player to be sent off in a test in 50 years, has meant Hansen has not been able to field his preferred combination. The Sydney match, which doubles as the first Bledisloe Cup encounter of the year, therefore should provide an ideal launching pad for Williams to narrow his focus on what is likely to be his last World Cup in Japan in 2019. “His eyes are on one task and that’s us doing well on Saturday,” Foster said. “He’s doing everything he can for this team to make sure we prepare well.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)
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