SBW in front, but Nonu expected to fire

Getty Images

James Mortimer     25 Jun 2012     Getty Images

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen indicated prior to the first squad naming of the 2012 Steinlager Series that Williams was in the box seat to be picked in the starting side.

His ‘chief rival’, World Cup winning incumbent Ma’a Nonu, is an interesting case whose recent adventures are well known.

One of the bedrocks of the All Blacks World Cup campaign, Nonu went to Japan and played a dozen matches while most of his team-mates put up their feet, and then came back to an emotional Blues environment that has seen the three-time champions endure one of their worst campaigns on record.

Hansen said that Nonu was in many respects burnt out after nearly 18 months of continuous rugby action, but his selection in the squad is serving many purposes for the All Blacks.

Williams is now developing as a rugby player at a fast pace, and his development would only have been amplified by three consecutive test starts, and surely having Nonu at training would have been an interesting dynamic for the team.

Nonu and Williams are friends, but there can be no denying the two are now in a ‘clash of the titans’ style tussle, two world class midfielders that have similar aspects, but one feels that the inclusion of the Blues centre wasn’t just to have his experience in training sessions.

One expects Nonu to come out of the All Blacks camp revived, with the powerful second five thriving in an All Blacks jersey, and one suspects that his inclusion in the June test squad indicates he will get a chance in the Investec Rugby Championship.

Williams got what he deserved, a chance to stamp his claim based on fair reward for previous service in the black jersey and form, and he has now effectively dethroned Nonu as the All Blacks senior number 12.

This is not to suggest any death knell for Nonu, a proven veteran who the All Blacks have relied on as an intimidating influence, with the man in his pomp the best pure linebreaking back in the game.

Hansen has indicated that Nonu has been freshened up in his time within the All Blacks environment, mentally firing him for what will no doubt be a focused effort from the Blues marquee midfield signing from the Hurricanes.

The Blues play the Force and Brumbies to round off the season, and it will be interesting to see how Nonu suits up for those clashes, with the week 18 match against the Canberra based franchise pitting him up against Wallabies centre Pat McCabe, who came out distinctly second best against Nonu during the World Cup semi-final.

The Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes are the remaining opponents for the Chiefs, but how Williams, who is quickly logging on plenty of match time in 2012, is used will intrigue as the top-of-the-table side will want Sonny Bill firing for their tilt for the title.

Based on last year’s history, the Chiefs 58 competition points all but guarantee their place in the finals, meaning that Williams could play non-stop through Super Rugby to the Rugby Championship.

Paradoxically he could be worn out, a dilemma some believe had beset Nonu…