Sonny Bill Williams will not be leaving the team due to injury. Photo: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

WELLINGTON  Defending champion New Zealand has moved to quash media reports that veteran midfielder Sonny Bill Williams is about to withdraw from the Rugby World Cup because of injury.

New Zealand media has been alive Sunday with reports the 34-year-old Williams, who is appearing at his third World Cup, is about to become the second All Black to be forced out of the World Cup in Japan before the tournament begins.

Williams appeared at the All Blacks' first training session in Japan with a heavily-strapped right leg.

The former rugby league player has played only a handful of matches this season because of a variety of injuries, including shoulder, knee and calf problems. He has played only 40 matches in total since the 2015 World Cup because of a mounting series of injuries.

At a news conference in Japan on Sunday an All Blacks spokesman rejected speculation that Williams would return home and be replaced by center Ngani Laumape. Williams' selection ahead of the younger, fitter Laumape was one of the most controversial elements of the 31-man New Zealand World Cup squad.

The All Blacks are due to name a team Thursday for its first World Cup match against Japan in Yokohama on Saturday. Williams is not expected to be part of that lineup.

AP