WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has decided to rest inside centre Sonny Bill Williams for the final Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Perth next week, while recalling fit-again lock Scott Barrett in his squad for the Bledisloe Cup matches.
The Aug. 10 match at Perth Stadium also doubles as the first of the Bledisloe Cup, the annual series contested between Australia and New Zealand.
Williams will head back to play provincial rugby with Counties Manukau for the next two weekends before returning to the All Blacks squad for the second Bledisloe match in Auckland on Aug. 17, New Zealand Rugby said in a statement on Wednesday.
Barrett returns after being sidelined for a month with a broken finger, replacing stalwart Brodie Retallick, who dislocated his shoulder in the 16-16 draw against South Africa in Wellington last Saturday.
Hansen has trimmed his squad for the two Wallabies matches, cutting Asafo Aumua, Josh Ioane, Dalton Papali’i, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Shannon Frizell.
Those players are now unlikely to be picked for the World Cup unless there are injuries.
Frizell’s omission, after he started in the 16-16 draw against South Africa in Wellington last Saturday, means Vaea Fifita remains in the race to be the starting blindside flanker in the absence of Liam Squire.
Rookie loose forward Luke Jacobson has retained his place in the world champions’ squad after his test debut off the bench in the opening Rugby Championship win over Argentina in Buenos Aires earlier this month.
Australia, who defeated Argentina 16-10 in Brisbane last week, meet the All Blacks in Western Australia state capital Perth for the first time.
“The Bledisloe Cup is the second most important trophy for us, after the Rugby World Cup, and we’re really looking forward to the next two Tests coming up,” Hansen said in a media release.
“Two weeks together will give us solid preparation towards growing our game understanding and getting our execution honed, so that’s exciting.”
The defending champion All Blacks are second in the Rugby Championship standings behind South Africa ahead of the final round.
Victory in Perth will see the All Blacks retain the trophy, should the Springboks lose their final match away to Argentina.
Forwards – Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Jackson Hemopo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Luke Jacobson, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Matt Todd
Backs – TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Braydon Ennor, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Ben Smith
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Rory Carroll)