Opinion: The ABs’ backline a jigsaw without SBW
Thu, 12 Jul 2012 9:41a.m.
Opinion By Jim Kayes
For a bloke many say has offered little to the All Blacks, Sonny Bill Williams leaves a big hole to be filled with his departure to Japan and then return to rugby league.
Williams’ test debut was at centre against England at Twickenham and he’s also played wing and second five in an all-too-brief international career that included 17 tests – 10 of them starts.
Such versatility is gold for selectors and with Isaia Toeava also heading to Japan, they’re now left a bit short in terms of such cover.
Tamati Ellison can play pretty much any where in the backs, has a good turn of pace, is a strong defender and is a mature man, but with just two tests behind him he remains an unknown quantity at test level.
Dan Carter began his test career as a second five, and with Aaron Cruden such a strong option at pivot and Beauden Barrett waiting in the wings, could slip back there without too much fuss.
But Carter is a much better 10 than 12, and though he never shirks the tough stuff, playing first five is less arduous and should mean he plays for longer.
Another option’s Richard Kahui – at 1.90m tall and 99kg he has the size and power of a second five and possesses the requisite kicking and passing abilities.
But Kahui’s out for the rest of the year with yet another shoulder injury so isn’t an option till next year.
Uncapped options include Robbie Fruean, whose size and strength are akin to Nonu’s and Williams’,but the All Blacks selectors have reservations about his work rate and 80-minute effort.
Crusaders teammate Ryan Crotty’s perhaps the next best established second five but he’s more a stop-gap than a long term X-factor option.
While Sonny Bill’s departure to Japan wasn’t a surprise,the presence of All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster at the press conference to announce his plans was – and remains intriguing.
No All Blacks coach was present when Jerome Kaino announced he was off to Japan – so why was Foster there? hy was it run by the NZRU? Perhaps because the All Blacks coaches are keen to see Williams back-in-black once his “handshake” obligation to play another season in the NRL is complete.
Williams didn’t rule a return out but it’s not as simple as just flying back across the Tasman and running out with the Chiefs.
There are plenty of similarities in rugby and league but they still remain different sports requiring different skill sets and job descriptions.
Williams will be on a crash course to re-learn his old code early next year and would then have to find his feet again in rugby were he to switch back for the 2015 World Cup.
It can be done, though, as Brad Thorn showed, and I suspect Williams will take a double switch (to league and then back to union) in his considerable stride.
Till that happens (and if it does) the All Blacks selectors will be hoping that Ma’a Nonu stays fit.
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12/07/2012 2:11:13 p.m.
Eli newall wrote:
I think Ryan crotty from the crusaders and tamati Ellison from the highlanders will be the main contest for the number 12 jersey. They both have had a reasonable season, not outstanding, but good enough to make it into the all blacks squad considering the amount of possible number 12's leaving after the season.
12/07/2012 2:06:45 p.m.
totally agree jim. SBW will be back...he has hinted his home is in union and with the chiefs. i reckon he will be gone to league for a year then back with the chiefs in 2014.
Nonu's durable so i think he could last most tests alone in SBW's absence. But Ellison seems a good back-up in the mean time to fill SBW's shoes.
I agree also that SBW will be missed simply because no other 12 option has his experience, skill-set, size and especially x-factor. But a year goes by as quick as a flash.
12/07/2012 10:47:35 a.m.
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