Robbie Deans nonplussed about Sonny Bill


NZPA     21 Oct 2010     Photosport

Williams might be playing in Deans' home town and for his old province, but it was as if the 25-year-old did not exist when the Wallabies coach was asked for his thoughts on the league convert's rapid rise to All Black selection for an end of year tour that starts with the final Bledisloe Cup test in Hong Kong on October 30.

"I wouldn't have any, you're talking to the wrong bloke," said Deans, who steadfastly refused to offer his assessment of one of the code's most talked about players.

But did he at least expect Williams to debut against the Wallabies at Hong Kong Stadium?

"Everyone they pick they intend to us at some point. I've got no idea mate, it doesn't concern me," said Deans after the Wallabies squad reassembled on the training paddock today.

While Deans wouldn't be drawn on the wisdom of coaching nemesis Graham Henry promoting the marketable Williams after just seven provincial games, he is clearly in the minority.

Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones was convinced Williams was an All Black-in-waiting since announcing his move from France to New Zealand in June.

"Anyone who has seen him play league and then saw him play union for Toulon and now for Canterbury in New Zealand could see he was going to be a pretty reasonable union player," Jones said.

"I think they have done the right thing picking him... it will bring him on even quicker."

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie also appreciated the logic in including Williams in the 30-man squad for the Bledisloe and subsequent assault on the Grand Slam, but doubted the Wallabies would see much of the off-loading midfielder in Hong Kong.

"Graham Henry will want to keep the foot on the throat of the Wallabies. He'll go with known quantities and not be too charitable. Sonny Bill will get a shot in Europe," McKenzie said, before lauding Williams' transition from league.

"He's a big ball-carrier who can bend the defence and offload like he does - he's a handful. You'll have to be tackling him and anyone around him."

That responsibility could fall to Adam Ashley-Cooper if Williams is named in the match-day 22 for the fourth trans-Tasman clash of the year.

And the Wallabies centre acknowledges containing Williams would not be easy.

"He's a fantastic athlete, he's massive, a big presence," he said.

"There was never any doubt he would make their squad. He's got all the skills to mix it with the best.

"He has great offloading skills. He suits the style of the Kiwi backline. I'm sure he'll fit in nicely. With the blokes around him, he's going to do well," Ashley-Cooper told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Former Wallabies second five-eighth Tim Horan took a different stance, hoping Williams would be feature in Hong Kong because he would pose fewer problems than established No 12 Ma'a Nonu.

"Nonu is just a fantastic footballer. He is a big, strong guy, has good speed and footwork and has the skills as well," Horan said.

Horan, a two-time World Cup winner, was not convinced Williams was playing in his rightful position, saying the 108kg and 1.94-metre ball player was better suited to blindside flanker.

"I believe he should be at No 6," Horan told the Telegraph."

"Since the time I saw him play for the Barbarians against the Wallabies (in 2009), I thought he'd be a stronger running forward and I'm not sure anything I have seen since has changed that."

Meanwhile, second five-eighth Matt Giteau was the only absentee from today's practice session.

"He's got a bit of a problem with a tooth. I don't think it's anything too bad," Deans said.

"He's a bit off colour. He'll be good to go tomorrow."

The Wallabies depart for Hong Kong on Saturday, 12 hours before the All Blacks trail then from Auckland.