Rugby World Cup 2011
SBW, Kahui fuel wing debate
Sonny Bill Williams (AP Photo)
Hamilton - Just a week ago, the All Blacks were concerned about who would play on the wings at the World Cup.
Now New Zealand has options galore. Utility back Richard Kahui has produced two superb performances on different wings, and regular center Sonny Bill Williams ran as as a substitute winger for the first time and enjoyed another eye-catching match in the 83-7 rout of Japan on Friday.
The wings weren't supposed to be a problem for the All Blacks, who didn't include either Sitiveni Sivivatu or Hosea Gear, two of the most feared finishers in rugby, in their World Cup squad.
But when the two specialists they did pick, Zac Guildford and Cory Jane, were overlooked for the tournament opener against Tonga last week, the selectors showed they were fumbling for alternatives.
It seems Graham Henry and the coaching staff have got lucky.
Kahui, a center whose All Black career has been stalled by shoulder injuries but has shone when he's got on the field, was played out of position on the right wing against Tonga and scored two tries to wide acclaim.
He was switched to the vacant left wing for the Japan game so Jane could be given a chance. Jane was solid in the first half, and Kahui stood out again with another two-try performance.
Henry had promised to try Williams, another midfielder, out of his comfort zone. When he replaced Jane soon after halftime, Williams looked right at home by scoring a pair of tries, too, much to the crowd's delight.
Williams wasn't popular a week ago for drawing out his contract negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Union, but he's suddenly popular again and become invaluable as a backup for jersey Nos. 11 to 14.
Henry was impressed again by Williams' range of skills.
"He scored two tries and set up another one. He's certainly got the interest of the selectors how well he played there," Henry said. "His positional sense was good for someone who hasn't played a lot there."
It was a completely new experience for Williams, an ex-rugby league forward.
"I've never played wing in my life," he said. "It was good to get some nice touches early and do my job, basically."
He said he was glad to show he could play another position, and looked forward to nailing any opportunities in any position for the All Blacks.
Japan coach John Kirwan, one of New Zealand's greatest wingers, said he was a fan of both Kahui and Williams.
"Richard played really well, he's a great winger," Kirwan said. "I think it was a great idea bringing Sonny Bill on to the wing, I just wish he'd done it another time. He can break a game open, he's a special player. It all bodes well for (New Zealand)."