Wellington - Sonny Bill Williams' return to the All Blacks frontline for their northern tour became easier Sunday with confirmation that Ma'a Nonu is out for the rest of the year with a broken arm.
As it happened: Springboks v All Blacks
Nonu underwent an operation to have a plate inserted after suffering the injury in Saturday's 14-10 win over South Africa in Wellington.
The 32-year-old was playing his 94th Test when he suffered the injury making a crunching tackle on Springbok captain Jean de Villiers 10 minutes before half-time.
"Ma'a has just come out of having an operation on his arm. It's broken. He's got a plate in it," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Sunday, adding Nonu will not play again this year.
While the loss of Nonu under normal circumstances would be a huge blow to the All Blacks, the impact has been tempered by the imminent return of the talented Williams after a second stint playing in Australia's National Rugby League competition.
The New Zealand Rugby Union has already bent its own rules to accommodate Williams for their November tour when they play the United States, England, Scotland and Wales.
He has been exempted from an eligibility rule that requires players to appear in the domestic inter-provincial competition before playing for the All Blacks.
Ryan Crotty is expected to wear Nonu's number 12 jersey with Malakai Fekitoa the back up for the remaining Rugby Championship Tests away to Argentina and South Africa before Williams becomes available.
"Yeah, it probably does," Hansen said when asked if Nonu's break had created an opportunity for Williams to take a more prominent role.
He has previously emphasised he wanted Williams on the end-of-year tour because there were a limited number of matches remaining for the All Blacks before the defence of the World Cup next year.
"You've got a quality, world-class player at your disposal and our job is to pick the best team. He's going to be one of the best players, so our job is to pick him," he said.
Nonu and Williams shared the inside-centre duties in the 2011 World Cup, with Nonu starting in the final before handing over to the league convert with four minutes remaining when the All Blacks beat France 8-7.