Sonny Bill Williams could be out for up to nine months.
For so long New Zealand possessed one of the most formidable midfield partnerships rugby has ever seen. Ma’a Nonu’s brute force and soft hands were complimented by Conrad Smith’s brilliant support lines and quick feet.
So effective was the partnership, Sonny Bill Williams played second fiddle to the duo for much of his international career. However, after playing crucial roles in New Zealand’s 2011 and 2015 World Cup campaigns, both Nonu and Smith left for Toulon and Pau respectively.
Indeed, Dan Carter’s departure to Racing meant that Williams was set to become one of the leaders in a relatively inexperienced All Black backline.
So important was the centre to New Zealand, the NZRU fought incredibly hard to fight off interest from Toulon, and Steve Hansen made it clear that Sonny Bill would feature in the opening round of the Rugby Championship, despite his Olympic exertions.
In short, despite the amount of talent available to New Zealand, Sonny Bill Williams was to ease the All Blacks’ ability to transition from the record breaking Nonu/Smith combination.
However, after suffering a partial Achilles rupture during New Zealand’s surprise 14-12 defeat at the hands of Japan at the Olympic Games, Williams could be forced to sit on the sidelines for up to nine months.
[tie_slide]1. Charlie Ngatai
Although Charlie Ngatai had been earmarked as a potential All Black for some time, the 25 year old centre has been forced to patiently wait behind Nonu and Williams.
As a result, the Chiefs’ player would have been hoping to take full advantage of Nonu’ retirement and Williams’ Olympic preparations, to stake a claim for the number 12 jersey during New Zealand’s summer series against Wales.
However, Ngatai was forced to sit out the three match test series, after suffering a serious concussion last May. Therefore, the centre will have to first demonstrate that he has fully recovered before he can add to his solitary international cap.
[tie_slide]2. Seta Tamanivalu
Fijian born Seta Tamanivalu became the latest South Sea Islander to be capped by New Zealand, after featuring in two of the All Blacks’ tests against Wales this summer.
Although Tamanivalu struggled at times for the Chiefs during the 2015 Super Rugby season, after beating Nehe Milner-Skudder to the 2014 ITM Cup Player of the Year Award, the Chiefs centre remains highly thought of.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the summer series with Wales, questions marks hung over Tamanivalu’s defensive abilities, particularly after Jonathan Davies dismissed him with this massive fend.
[tie_slide]3. Anton Lienert-Brown
The third Chiefs player to feature on this list, Anton Lienert-Brown earned a call-up into the wider New Zealand training squad last week after enjoying an impressive Super Rugby season.
Although he has yet to feature for the All Blacks, Lienert-Brown is a strong defender with excellent distribution skills.
However, despite his undoubted talent, it is unlikely that Hansen would choose to select the inexperienced 21 year old against Australia.
[tie_slide]4. Ryan Crotty
For some time now Ryan Crotty has been the All Blacks’ go to player when one of their midfield players suffers injury. Indeed, the Crusaders player was named at inside centre for the first test against Wales.
Nevertheless, with Williams out of action for up to nine months, Crotty could take full advantage and underline his talents during the Rugby Championship and subsequent November test series.
[tie_slide]5. George Moala
With only two international caps to his name, George Moala is another inexperienced option available to New Zealand.
However, the Blues centre did start the final test against Wales alongside Crotty in midfield. Notwithstanding the fact that Moala did create a number of line breaks and score a try against the Welsh, that game was not the the most competitive.
Nevertheless, Moala’s immense upper body strength and natural flair could see the centre add to his two All Black caps.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena