And yet, unless he is again crocked when the selections are made, this sacred cow of New Zealand rugby will most likely again be named. Named on reputation.
There are four midfield alternatives who will fit the bill just fine, thank you. They are Ngani Laumape, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown. They can all play second five, and at least three of them can play centre at international level. That much was evident from the just-completed northern tour. All made strides to a greater or lesser degree.
We constantly hear how professional he is, how he looks after his body, how he signs a lot of autographs and poses for pics with the kids. As if he is the only man in the All Blacks who does that. But he should not be judged for how well he looks after his (battered) body, but for how well he plays on the field.
In 2018 he made just five Test appearances for the All Blacks. He looked defensively sound, as ever, but his trademark offloads – the one thing he performs to a world-class level – were few and far between and he started to make the sort of handling and passing mistakes you just do not see from Goodhue and Crotty.
Hell, he is going to have his work out being the starting No 12 for the Blues in 2019 if reports of Ma’a Nonu’s prime conditioning are close to the mark. Williams is not going to be a viable option at centre. He no longer has the pace. Neither does Nonu. One of them is going to have to wear jersey No 23, at best.
That does not mean Williams has offered no value to the All Blacks since his ill-fated foray into sevens in 2016. He played very well for most of the 2017 northern tour, apart from forgetting the laws against France. His most memorable attacking moment, however, was his offload for the Blues against the Lions which triggered Ihaia West’s try.
Nonu was irreplaceable in his prime of 2008-15, fit to rank as New Zealand’s greatest No 12. The All Blacks built an entire game plan around him. Williams was often a useful counterpoint to that with his incursions off the bench, such as in the 2015 RWC final. But he was no more than an add-on with an outrageous offload.
He could have been so much more had he not left these shores in 2012 to chase the yen and the Australian dollar in the NRL. If he had stayed and built on a combination with Aaron Cruden that was just starting to bear fruit with the Chiefs and All Blacks, exemplified in the 60-0 shellacking of Ireland, then we could be talking about an 80-Test All Black who is pushing greatness.
It is partly bad luck, as it always is with injury. But Williams has received more than his share of (metaphorical) free passes over the years. He should not be a certainty in 2019, regardless of form. If he comes good, physically and form-wise, then good on him. Maybe he will be an injury sub. But that will be a bonus. There are better men, more reliable men than the mercurial SBW.
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