Wellington - The All Blacks on Friday said it was
"common sense" to let Sonny Bill Williams play the Rugby Championship
opener against Australia, after World Rugby expressed surprise that his ban
over a red card had been lifted on appeal.
New Zealand's relief that their star centre could play was
in contrast to reaction of the sport's governing body, World Rugby, which took
the unusual step of issuing a statement raising concerns about the decision by
an independent panel.
World Rugby vice-chairperson Agustin Pichot even tweeted:
"I don't agree on the decision of the independent pannel (sic) towards
sbw's (Williams') case."
Williams was hit with a four-week ban - equating to four
matches - for an illegal shoulder charge in last month's second Test against
the British and Irish Lions.
The original judicial panel accepted three of the matches
the double World Cup-winner would miss but said the fourth did not meet the
threshold of a "meaningful" match.
The game in question is on August 11, when the All Blacks
will play a warm-up against both Counties Manukau and Taranaki, one half
against each team.
"We were appealing the interpretation of that match
being meaningful," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster told Radio Sport.
"From a common-sense perspective it's a game we play 80
minutes under the normal rules of rugby. The reason we play two teams is
because it makes the game harder for us.
"Fortunately we felt for us, common sense
prevailed," he said.
Foster said he sympathised with World Rugby as it wrestled
with the issue of weeks of suspension and the significance of the games
But he said Williams was always going to play in the
Counties-Taranaki fixture, a week before the Australia Test, as he needed the
game time after a season hampered by injury and the suspension.
The other games missed by Williams are the third Lions Test,
the Auckland Blues' final Super Rugby match against the Sunwolves, and a New
Zealand provincial championship pre-season match.
"What World Rugby quite correctly keeps a close eye on
is to make sure there's not games (in the suspension period) that really the
player would not have intended to play," he said.
"We understand that and we agree with that.
"We were assessed on the All Blacks versus
Counties-Taranaki game and we feel the right decision's come. That's a
significant game and it is a very meaningful one for Sonny and that matters
under the laws."
In its statement, World Rugby said it would refer the matter
to its regulations committee in September to "ensure universal
clarity" on the rules surrounding suspensions.