Sonny Bill's World Cup hopes take a massive hit
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams is facing six weeks on the sidelines with minor knee surgery, the Blues said on Thursday, denting his hopes of going for a third Rugby World Cup title in September.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said it was a “big blow” to lose the 33-year-old former Rugby League star and heavyweight boxer, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery after suffering an injury on March 30.
Williams, who was hurt setting up a crucial try in the Blues’ Super Rugby win over the Stormers, was already facing competition for a midfield slot in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad.
“It’s a big blow, I feel sorry for him. It’s unfortunate for him,” MacDonald told media in Auckland. “Whatever he decides to do, he puts his mind to it and he sort of makes happen.
“If he still wants to play later on, he’s the sort of guy that you would never write off. He’s pretty determined guy, this year he wants to make the World Cup squad and be a part of that obviously.
“He’s pretty driven to make sure he recovers well from this injury and gets back on the field.”
The 51-Test veteran lifted the World Cup in 2011 and 2015, but he has racked up a series of injuries in recent years.
Ryan Crotty, Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown are among the other All Blacks centres vying for a spot at the World Cup in Japan.
Meanwhile, All Black props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi return to the Blues’ starting line-up for Saturday’s clash against Super Rugby neighbours, the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
It will be just their second start together this season, after the pair has performed strongly off the bench.
This allows Alex Hodgman and Sione Mafileo, who have started in five and six games respectively this season, to have different roles and bring impact off the bench.
The other changes in the pack will see North Harbour’s hard-working Gerard Cowley-Tuioti return to the starting line-up for the fifth time this season, and All Black Dalton Papalii start after four games off the bench, replacing co-captain Blake Gibson, who suffered a laceration of his knee last weekend.
The remainder of the team is the same as that which prevailed over the Waratahs at Eden Park last week.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Date: Saturday, April 13
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy (Australia), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman, (New Zealand)