Sonny Bill Williams set to play in end-of-year tour
August 25, 2014
Sonny Bill Williams will be eligible for All Blacks selection even if he misses the ITM Cup © Getty Images
Cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams has been granted special dispensation to be included in the All Blacks' end-of-year tour squad.
Williams, who currently plays in the NRL with the reigning premiers, Sydney Roosters, will return to rugby once his two-year league deal runs out, but the timing of the All Blacks' tour means he may not play a domestic match in the ITM Cup before the squad is picked.
The New Zealand Rugby board, however, has granted him an exemption to be selected without having played in the national provincial championship, with chief executive Steve Tew saying the All Blacks' coaching staff can select the Rugby World Cup winner if they want him in the squad.
"It is still expected he will play ITM Cup rugby, but that is dependent on how the Roosters do in the NRL, and if you ask Warriors fans they would say they are doing quite well," Tew said. "The board were asked on Friday what they were comfortable with in terms of how many games he had to play to tick the [All Blacks eligibility] box.
All Blacks bend rules for Sonny Bill Williams
"The board were of the view, which we completely concur with, that we have made a big investment in Sonny Bill Williams and if the coaches believe we get the most out of that investment by taking him on the tour in November then they should have the discretion to do so. There were a number of unknowns around the situation which made it sensible to leave some flexibility.
"That's entirely in the hands of the All Blacks coaches and Sonny Bill himself because he will have to make an assessment about whether touring at the end of the year is the best thing for him or not depending on how the [Roosters] season pans out from here.
Williams has signed to play for Ranfurly Shield holders Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup, but the Roosters are assured of making the NRL finals, putting his availability in doubt. His commitments in the 13-a-side code may prevent him playing for the Tana Umaga-coached Steelers, whose regular season winds up four days after the NRL grand final on October 5.
"If he were not to play [for Counties Manukau] the board have the discretion to allow him not to play and they have exercised that discretion in advance, but it is still anticipated he will play ITM Cup because we think that will be of benefit to him anyway," Tew said.
The All Blacks commence their end-of-season tour against the United States in Chicago on November 1, followed by Tests against England, Scotland and Wales over successive weekends.