Thursday, February 29, 2024

OPINION: Sonny Bill on thin ice

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Having suffered hamstring problems soon after making the All Blacks’ 39-man squad, Sonny Bill Williams is skating on thin ice.

Injuries have plagued the 33-year-old since rupturing his Achilles at the 2016 Olympics but national selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox have retained their faith in him at the expense of others who have shown consistent form.

Hansen is a great believer in experience and with Ma’a Nonu having failed to make the squad and Ryan Crotty out for eight weeks with a hand injury, Williams is his most experienced midfield back.

Unfortunately, given his history over the past four years, he could be a liability rather than an asset.

All Black and Blues back Sonny Bill Williams is carrying another injury. Photo Twitter

Other midfielders in the squad include Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape and Jack Goodhue while Braydon Ennor can play centre as well as wing and versatile Jodie Barrett can play 12, 13, 14 and 15.

Of the regular midfielders Lienert-Brown has the best off-load and the powerful Laumape is the most prolific try-scorer.

Joining former St Kentigern College student Ennor as new All Blacks are Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson, flying Crusaders wing Sevu Reece, Highlanders lock/flanker Jackson Hemopo and first-five Josh Ioane.

With the 11 Crusaders expected to be rested for the July 20 Buenos Aires test against Argentina, others will have a chance to stake their claims for a regular berth.

With Liam Squire making himself unavailable, competition for his No 6 jersey between Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Dalton Papalii and Jacobson should be fierce.

Particularly pleasing was the promotion of rugged Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman and speedy Chiefs halfback Brad Weber who consistently performed well in Super Rugby, as did Jacobson before he suffered concussion.

Having scored 15 tries in that competition, the electrifying Reece beat fellow Fijian Waisake Naholo for his spot and looks destined for an exciting international career.

Meanwhile coach Scott Robertson and his champion Crusaders had cause to celebrate their third consecutive Super Rugby championship victory with their hard fought 19-3 win against the rugged Jaguares in Christchurch last Saturday.

The score didn’t do justice to the Jaguares’ sterling effort with powerful man of the match Pablo Matera proving with his strong runs and crunching tackles he’s among the world’s best No 6s.

Such was the Jaguares overall defence, the Crusaders were confined to just one Codie Taylor try, with Richie Mo’unga scoring the remaining 14 points from a perfect kicking performance.

It was a happy final Crusaders stanza for Ryan Crotty, Matt Todd, Owen Franks and Jordan Taufua who head overseas next year when captain Sam Whitelock will take a year’s leave.
Replacing them won’t be easy, even for a franchise as blessed for depth as the Crusaders are, especially if “Razor” Robertson is promoted to the All Blacks coaching staff when Steve Hansen moves on.

Meanwhile Hansen will be keen to sharpen some of his weary, ageing All Blacks who, like the old grey mare, don’t look like they used to.

With so many Jaguares having developed combinations during the Super 12 competition, cohesion shouldn’t be a problem when Argentina clash with the All Blacks on home soil.

Once renowned for the strength of their scrum, they have developed their 15-man game nicely and are dangerous when moving the ball wide to their centre, fullback and wings.

Nor should it be forgotten they beat Ireland at the 2015 World Cup.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer

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