All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has hailed Sonny Bill Williams’ unique set of skills ahead of Saturday’s Test against the Springboks, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Pretoria.
On Monday morning, the New Zealand team arrived at their hotel in scorching hot Johannesburg to be warmly welcomed by waiting skipper Kieran Read, who had been rested for last Saturday’s trip to Argentina.
While Read was all smiles, a weary-looking Hansen fronted up to a small local media contingent. And although there did appear to be the possibility of a sense of humour failure following a long journey from Buenos Aires, Hansen did quip that he was glad to see Read had managed to find the team base on his own.
Read made the trip ahead of the travelling squad, while utility back Damian McKenzie has also now joined up with his teammates after missing this past weekend’s Test due to family reasons.
Besides being boosted by the return of this duo, Williams made his long-awaited return from injury in the win over Argentina, and made a couple of typically influential contributions.
When asked how he felt Williams was tracking, Hansen barely masked a wry smile.
‘He’s only played 40 minutes, so it’s a bit hard to say,’ he chided. ‘But he is a world-class player, and he comes with his own set of skills and something different. His offloads are great and his work rate is really good, so we’ll expect that from him should he play.’
Williams would be expected to start at inside centre this Saturday, and is sure to pose a different defensive challenge for the Boks with his ability to keep the ball alive in contact.
The All Blacks have arrived in South Africa searching for a degree of redemption after suffering a surprise loss to the Boks in Wellington last month.
However, Hansen dryly laughed off any suggestion that it would place additional pressure on the team ahead of Saturday’s rematch.
‘Like any hurt [after the Wellington loss], time allows it to fade away, but it’s still there. The All Blacks live in a constant place of pressure to win, though. It’s interesting, you guys [the media] have written the Boks off before, and now you’re starting to write us off, which is quite good,’ he chuckled.
‘Life for the All Blacks isn’t about anything other than having to win. The expectation is to win every Test match, and if we win, then we must win well. Nothing changes for us, we have to prepare well and ensure we hit the ground running to present ourselves as best we can this Saturday.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 1, 2018
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images