SBW to stake All Blacks World Cup claim

Sonny Bill Williams makes his return from knee surgery and can prove his All Blacks worthiness when the Blues end their Super Rugby season in Wellington.

SONNY BILL WILLIAMS of the All Blacks passes during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
SONNY BILL WILLIAMS of the All Blacks passes during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Argentina at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images

All Black Sonny Bill Williams will get a lone and long-awaited shot at proving his Test fitness when the Blues face the Hurricanes in their final match of the Super Rugby season.

With little at stake in the Wellington clash on Saturday, much interest will centre on the form of cross-code star Williams, whose All Blacks selection is in doubt after sitting out the last 10 games following knee injury.

It is just the third start of the year for the 33-year-old former NRL star, who has long been favoured by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen but must stave off a host of quality midfield candidates if he's to win selection for a third Rugby World Cup.

One of those players in contention is fellow veteran Ma'a Nonu, who has started the last 11 games at inside centre but is demoted to the bench with Williams' return.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he had considered pairing the two veterans but felt Nonu, 37, deserved a lighter load.

"We want to respect Sonny and give him a good opportunity to play because he's been working hard in the background," MacDonald said.

"And Ma'a has carried a massive workload this year. He's been beaten up. He doesn't tell anyone, but he's got a sore body and keeps working for us while Sonny has been on the recovery path."

Another out to prove his All Blacks readiness in his first start since March is Hurricanes captain Dane Coles, who will lead a side weakened by coach John Plumtree's desire to rest key players.

The Blues are out of contention, having won just once in the last two months, while the Hurricanes are assured of finishing snaring the top wildcard berth, meaning they'll host a quarter-final next week.


AAP