x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Displacing Nonu is a tough ask for Williams

Sonny Bill Williams's call-up to the New Zealand squad for their upcoming tour to Hong Kong and the northern hemisphere signals an ominous warning for the rest of the rugby union world.

Sonny Bill Williams's call-up to the New Zealand squad for their upcoming tour to Hong Kong and the northern hemisphere signals an ominous warning for the rest of the rugby union world.

The rugby league convert has been fast-tracked into the All Blacks set-up after returning from Toulon in France where he has played for the past two years. Some achievement when you consider the All Blacks are unbeaten in 2010 and won the Tri Nations in brutally convincing fashion.

The thought of him lining up outside Dan Carter, the record-breaking fly-half, at inside centre at the World Cup, to be held in New Zealand, is as tantalising as it is frightening.

But standing in his way are arguably the best centre pairing anywhere in world rugby. In Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, has a blend of brains and brawn.

Nonu's performances over the past year have shown a new-found maturity, complementing organisation with a powerful running game. In Smith, New Zealand possess the epitome of calm. Rarely flustered in possession or defending his own try-line.

Williams will probably be used sparingly as Henry assesses whether he can make the step up to Test level. But the first part of Williams's dream to represent his country in next year's showpiece is complete: recognition. The second: supplanting either Nonu or Smith from the starting XI, will not come to him quite so easily.

sluckings@thenational.ae