All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says the injury-prone Sonny Bill Williams would be an automatic selection if he regains full fitness in time for the World Cup.
The 33-year-old Williams has been sidelined for the majority of the Vodacom Super Rugby season and has played only a handful of games for the Blues.
This has sparked fears that Williams could lose his place in the All Blacks’ midfield to other contenders such as the Hurricanes’ Ngani Laumape, Crusaders’ Ryan Crotty and Braydon Ennor, the Blues’ Ma’a Nonu and possibly even utilities such as Jordie Barrett and Anton Lienert-Brown.
But Hansen insists Williams has nothing to prove other than his physical readiness for a tilt at a third World Cup.
‘I understand why people would say he’s running out of time. But is he really? He’s already proved himself. He’s played 51 tests. That’s a lot of Test matches; that’s a lot of proving,’ Hansen said.
‘What we need to see is him getting back on track. Then we’ve got to ask ourselves, is his fitness good enough for him to be selected in the team? We play five Test matches before we have to name the World Cup team, so does he deserve the opportunity to show us whether he’s still good enough?
‘Of course he does, because he’s played 50 test matches, and all those boys in midfield who have played for us at some stage will get an opportunity to show us they’re good enough. Personally, I think they all are good enough, but we can only pick four, or even three, depending on what we do with the rest of the squad,’ Hansen added.
The All Blacks boss also provided an update on several of his other injured stars, including Ben Smith and Owen Franks.
‘Owen is coming along nicely. His injury is one we won’t really know if he is up to the rigours of it until he gets out there on the park, and Bender [Smith] is back running. With hamstrings you don’t want to go back too early and redo it because then it becomes a major problem. Dane Coles [calf] is progressing well.’
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