Sonny Bill looms as All Blacks embark on new era

2016-05-29 17:44
Sonny Bill Williams (Getty Images)

Wellington - Sonny Bill Williams was reported on Sunday to have signed on for New Zealand's 2019 World Cup campaign, rejecting lucrative offers to either return to club rugby in France or switch back to rugby league.

News that the celebrated code-hopper would make a statement about his future in a matter of days came as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen began sowing the seeds for their World Cup defence in 2019.

Hansen named six new All Blacks and recalled another six who missed the last World Cup as he set about filling the gaping hole left by the departure of several players who were central to the All Blacks' World crowns in 2011 and 2015.

Williams, who has frequently switched between rival codes rugby union and rugby league, as well as dabbling in professional boxing, is this year focusing on Rugby Sevens with hopes of winning a medal at the Rio Olympics.

The New Zealand Herald reported that Williams, a member of the 2011 and 2015 World Cup winning squads, will announce on Wednesday a commitment to staying with the All Blacks through to 2019.

"Williams is determined to make it to a third World Cup with the All Blacks," the Herald said without quoting sources.

"He has rejected offers to return to the NRL and rejoin his former French club Toulon to give the remainder of his football career to the 15-man game and New Zealand rugby."

Williams has previously signed only one-year deals, but with Ma'a Nonu having moved overseas, the way is open for the 33-Test All Black to become New Zealand's premier inside centre.

Hansen said, as he unveiled his new squad, that last year's 2015 World Cup triumph was behind them.

More than a third of the 32 players selected for next month's Test series against Wales were not part of the victorious Richie McCaw-captained side that claimed the World Crown in London.

But Hansen dismissed suggestions he faced a four-year "rebuild" towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

"Our mindset is not one of rebuilding but re-establishing, moving to a higher level," he said.

"That's our challenge. Taking this team to a higher level than where we left off at the Rugby World Cup.

"So we'll put a full stop on 2015. It's a new start from the point of view that we must go to a higher level."

The relatively inexperienced Ryan Crotty (15 Tests) and Charlie Ngatai (one Test) were named for the inside centre role against Wales with Malakai Fekitoa (13 Tests) and newcomer Seta Tamanivalu outside them.

Along with Tamanivalu, the other new All Blacks are Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Ardie Savea, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire and Damian McKenzie while Crotty, Ngatai, Israel Dagg, Lima Sopoaga, Patrick Tuipulotu and Nathan Harris earn a recall.

Ardie Savea, a fast and powerful loose forward and brother of All Blacks wing Julian Savea, was in the frame with Williams to make the New Zealand Sevens team for the Rio Olympics.

But late last month Ardie Savea announced a "gut decision" to abandon his Olympic dream to focus on making the Test side.

Kieran Read was confirmed as the new All Blacks captain with fullback Ben Smith the vice-captain.

Read more on:    all blacks  |  sonny bill williams  |  rugby

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