JOHANNESBURG - In good, dry conditions don’t be surprised if the multi-skilled Sonny Bill Williams gets a run-on start for the All Blacks when they face the Springboks in a Rugby Championship match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
Williams only returned to action last weekend – against Argentina in Buenos Aires and from off the bench – after recovering from a fairly long-term injury, but could be used from the start this weekend.
“He only played 40 minutes last weekend, but he’s a world class player,” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen about his inside centre when the All Blacks arrived in Joburg from Argentina on Monday. “He’s got his own set of skills, like his off-loads and his work rate is very good, too, so I expect him to bring all of that to the match if he plays,” added the All Blacks boss.
And conditions on the Highveld could suit the hard, free-running Williams on Saturday. “It’ll be exciting ... the weather looks like it’ll be good all week,” said Hansen. “There are plenty of guys who’ve come here to play Super Rugby before and they all understand the South African conditions.”
Hansen added it was important for his team to end the competition on a high note even though they have already wrapped up the title, thanks to their win against the Pumas last Saturday.
“The All Blacks live under constant pressure to win,” said Hansen. “The life of an All Black is about nothing else but having to win. The expectations are we have to win every Test match, and win it well. In that regard, nothing changes (this week).
“It’s always important to not lose two in a row. The rivalry between the teams is a strong one and we enjoy it, and so far the Springboks are 1-0 up this year. We need to make sure we put out a performance we’re proud of this weekend.”
Until next time Argentina 🇦🇷🏉❤️ pic.twitter.com/vCfo5xXHc4
The All Blacks will also very much want to make up for the 34-36 loss suffered in Wellington two weeks ago. “Like any hurt, time allows it to go away,” said Hansen about the two-point defeat suffered by his team. “But, it’s there, and it would be no different for the Boks (if they’d lost) ... when they get beaten it hurts.”
Hansen said he was expecting a fired up and confident Bok team to run out at Loftus. “They were physical (against the Wallabies last weekend) and again defended really well. They also took their opportunities ... obviously they’ve got confidence out of the win in Wellington, and it showed on the park.”