New Zealand Rugby
Williams omission down to experience
October 28, 2010
Graham Henry didn't want Sonny Bill Williams going in at the deep end © Getty Images
Experience and loyalty were the driving factors behind Graham Henry's decision to leave Sonny Bill Williams out of his matchday 22 for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia.
The New Zealand coach has named what he feels is his strongest XV for the Hong Kong Test and while league convert Williams was hoping for a spot on the bench, Henry and his assistants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen have left him out altogether.
The core of a New Zealand line-up chiefly responsible for inflicting 10 successive defeats on Robbie Deans' Wallabies will be rolled out at Hong Kong Stadium, with a refusal to unleash Williams from the replacements bench an indication of the All Blacks' determination not to give Australia a potential weakness to exploit.
The former Toulon centre has been the most talked about member of the tour party but he will have to bide his time until the Grand Slam leg of the tour to add an All Blacks cap to his seven appearance for the Kiwis rugby league team.
Isaia Toeava may have played five fewer games of provincial rugby than Williams this season but the versatile Aucklander's 26 Tests of experience ensured he was the logical choice to cover the midfield and outside backs.
"We didn't want to fire Sonny Bill in at the deep end," Henry said. "It would have been a big ask to throw him out there in a big Test match like this without having had time to get his feet under the table. We think he needs a little bit of time to get accustomed to what we're trying to do out there."
There was also the inference that Williams had to earn his right to acquire a Test jumper, despite him being a certainty to tour since his return from France in June. Henry said loyalty was the driving force behind selecting the 22-man squad.
"The philosophy was to reinforce what's happened over the last 12 months and this is the group of players that have done the job," he said. "It's the Test team that's been starting most Test matches this year, it's really a thankyou for what they've done."
Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu are down to start the Hong Kong clash despite carrying injuries, but Henry has denied the selectors were gambling on their fitness. "There was a bit of concern about whether they'd be OK but they came through the [trial] game last week well," he said.
Henry warned that while Australia may not have beaten the All Blacks for some time, the run would not go on for ever. And the former Wales coach says he is impressed with what Robbie Deans is doing across the Tasman Sea.
"Australia are going to win at some stage aren't they? It's just a matter of when," he said. "I'm impressed with what they're trying to do. They're going to use the ball and play a lot of width and try and manipulate us defensively."
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