New Zealand plan to remain patient with Sonny Bill Williams despite having a midfield quartet “jumping out of their skin” ahead of Saturday’s clash against England at Twickenham.
Cross-code international Williams won his 50th All Blacks cap as the world champions beat Australia 37-20 in Yokohama last month. But the 33-year-old centre did not feature in last weekend’s 69-31 rout of Japan in Tokyo.
“Sonny’s had the least rugby, he’s still finding his top form; I think that’s fair to say,” New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster said Wednesday.
“I don’t think our patience (with Williams) will be driven by his background, more based on how we see players perform in training. I think when we look at the physical nature of the game, how they are training, sometimes things are going really good off the park and it hasn’t quite gelled to the extent they want on the park.
Sometimes players are deemed to have had a quiet game, but in reality they may not have had too many opportunities to show what they are good at.”
New Zealand will take on Ireland in Dublin on November 18, and conclude their tour of the northern hemisphere with a trip to Rome to face Italy on November 25.
“We’ve got a whole lot of players who have had injuries this year, significant injuries over time, and they’ve come back and at various degrees of accuracy in their game,” said Foster.
“But also some of them have taken a little longer to get their feet right. All our midfielders right now are actually jumping out of their skin, to be honest.
In the last two weeks, the energy levels and work rate is as good as it’s been all year in that group.”
England will hope to unleash a powerhouse centre of their own on Saturday if Manu Tuilagi is able to make his long-awaited Test comeback.
The Leicester midfielder, whose career has been blighted by injuries, had been due to make his first England appearance in more than two years during last Saturday’s 12-11 win over South Africa at Twickenham before a minor groin strain ruled him out of a place on the bench.
Tuilagi’s arguably best match in an England shirt came during his try-scoring display in a 38-21 win over New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012. Leicester team-mate Ben Youngs, the England scrum-half, is eager for more of the same this weekend.
“I was gutted when he pulled out (of the South Africa match), but it was a tiny niggle,” said Youngs.
“But with someone like him, it was not worth risking. It’s great to see him running around in training. I’m really please he’s able to get back out there. He’s looking good.
We know what a world-class operator Manu is. It settles down the boys to know that he’s there.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)