Sonny Bill's comeback put on hold

Sports | 14 Sep 2018

Sonny Bill Williams' return to Test rugby was put on hold by tonsilitis when the ailing center was ruled out of the All Blacks squad to face South Africa this weekend.

Williams had been penciled in to start on the bench in tomorrow's Rugby Championship fixture in Wellington, but he was scratched from the squad.

Coach Steve Hansen said Williams had been sick all week and, while the plan was to play 20 minutes late in the game, there was risk he may have had to come on early as an injury replacement.

That would flatten him, Hansen said. "He's too valuable to do that to."

Williams, 33, missed the first two Tests against France last June, following knee surgery. He played 58 minutes of the third Test before injuring his shoulder, and has been out of action since.

The two-time World Cup-winner's on-again, off-again return comes as Hansen announced wholesale changes for the Springboks match.

There are 10 changes to the run-on side and five on the bench in a strong All Blacks combination looking to extend their unbeaten record in the tournament.

Ryan Crotty, Sam Cane and Rieko Ioane all made the starting lineup after missing last week's Test against Argentina because of injury.

Hansen opted for Crotty to start in the No 12 jersey, with the center confirming he was suffering no long-term effects from his sixth concussion in 15 months when knocked out playing Australia early in the series.

Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett are reunited in the halves while Anton Lienert-Brown will play at outside center. Ioane returns to the left wing, while Ben Smith moves to the right wing to make way for Jordie Barrett at full-back.

In the forwards, Sam Whitelock moves into the No 4 jersey, with Brodie Retallick injured, and Patrick Tuipulotu comes on to the bench as lock cover for his first Test of 2018. Liam Squire and Cane return as flankers.

"We'll have to be at our very best in all these areas to counter an opposition we know will be desperate," Hansen said. "You just have to look at our last encounter in Cape Town to understand what kind of beast we will be facing."

Handre Pollard has been restored as South Africa's starting fly-half with coach Rassie Erasmus selecting his strongest available side to face New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Israel Folau will start on the wing for the first time in five years against Argentina this weekend in a surprise tactical shift after the Wallabies' star full-back was declared fit along with flanker David Pocock.

Folau has started 61 Tests at full-back dating back to the 2013 Bledisloe Cup.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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