By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Sonny Bill Williams will not travel with the All Blacks for their final Rugby Championship match against Australia in Perth on Aug. 10, coach Steve Hansen said on Sunday.
The 33-year-old Williams will instead play for provincial side Counties Manukau and be brought back into the All Blacks squad for their Bledisloe Cup encounter with the Wallabies in Auckland the following week.
“He’s going to play a couple of games over the next couple of weeks, which will be good,” Hansen told reporters.
“He’ll be available for Perth, but we’re not going to take him. We’re going to get him to play two, or three … as many games as we can get in between there and Auckland.”
The inside centre has suffered a string of injury over the last two years and his place in Hansen’s World Cup squad was in jeopardy if he could not prove his match fitness during the southern hemisphere competition.
He played 59 minutes of the All Blacks 16-16 draw with South Africa in Wellington on Saturday before being replaced by Anton Lienert-Brown.
While he did not make a characteristic line break or offload in the tackle he often drew three defenders, which created mismatches outside him.
Most importantly for Hansen, he came through the game unscathed without any recurrence of his hamstring injury that had kept him out of last week’s test against Argentina.
“The key thing we asked him to do was stay there and stay injury free. He did that,” Hansen said after the match.
“He hasn’t played a lot of rugby and was rusty so we won’t get too judgmental about his rugby performance, the fact was his body held together that was encouraging.”
Hansen is due to reduce his 39-man squad to 34 players on Wednesday for the two clashes with Australia.
The absence of twice World Cup winner Williams could give Ngani Laumape a final opportunity to press his World Cup credentials, with Ryan Crotty due to have scan on a broken thumb on Monday.
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)