All Blacks midfield mystery solved by SBW

by Staff Writer

The midfield mystery has been resolved leaving lock as the biggest selection question mark ahead of coach Steve Hansen's All Blacks squad naming on Sunday.

Hansen confirmed departing inside centre Sonny Bill Williams will wear the No.12 jersey for the first two Tests against the Wallabies in the inaugural four-nation Rugby Championship - in Sydney on August 18 and Auckland on August 25.

Williams is expected to get permission to play the Tests from Japanese club Panasonic, delaying the start of their lucrative deal.

Veteran Test inside centre Ma'a Nonu and Tamati Ellison will be Hansen's prime candidates at centre in place of the injured Conrad Smith while utility Ben Smith is a fourth midfield option.

Even though Williams is on the verge of leaving New Zealand rugby, Hansen said there was no thought given to developing other midfield talent in the two Wallabies Tests.

"It's obvious that we're interested in using Sonny for a couple of weeks while he is still contracted to New Zealand, particularly as Panasonic are going to come to the party and support us," Hansen told reporters.

"We'd be foolish not to use him. He's in outstanding form."

Williams and other players from the Chiefs weren't considered for a two-day All Blacks camp in Wellington this week as they prepare for the Super Rugby final against the Sharks on Saturday in Hamilton.

Hansen admitted he would use the final to assess the form of Chiefs lock and captain Craig Clarke, who has emerged as an All Blacks candidate.

However, the uncapped Clarke, who turns 29 on Tuesday, is battling a knee injury and might not play the final, throwing uncertainty over Hansen's locking mix.

Fringe candidates Jason Eaton and Jarrad Hoeata haven't been included in the camp. Ali Williams and Luke Romano have but both are injured and unlikely to be fit for the August Tests.

Romano suffered a shoulder injury in the semi-final loss to the Chiefs, leaving Crusaders teammate Sam Whitelock as the only fit lock at the camp. He is likely to be joined on Sunday by Chiefs youngster Brodie Retallick.

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