New Zealand 58 Namibia 14 RWC 2015: Sonny Bill Williams answers the All Blacks' centre debate to add weight to Sam Burgess argument

All Blacks see off Namibia in Pool C as Sonny Bill Williams puts himself in the frame to replace Ma'a Nonu in Steve Hansen's strongest XV

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The Independent Online

If there was one concern to come out of New Zealand's victory over Argentina last weekend, it was seeing Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith struggle to assert the dominance that the most capped centre pairing in All Blacks history expect to enjoy.

While Smith spent the end of the first half and the start of the second in the sin-bin, Nonu was nonchalantly putting in one of his worst performances of his international career. With the Pumas leading, head coach Steve Hansen knew something else was needed, so he called for Sonny Bill.

In 35 minutes, Sonny Bill Williams changed the game, achieved more offloads than any other player in round one and had a helping hand in both of the All Blacks’ tries. His reward was a starting spot as one of 12 changes against Namibia, and it took the cross-coder just three minutes to make his first impact as be broke the fragile defence facing the world champions last night.




New Zealand predictably raced out to an early lead, and Williams was a key part of that midway through the first half when he beat the first man, sucked in the cover defence to commit the Namibia full-back Johan Tromp before releasing one of his trademark offloads out of the back door to his centre partner Malakai Fekitoa.

The 30-year-old looks to be the answer to what little problems the All Blacks currently have, yet the outlook in England is vastly different. Tomorrow night, another rugby league export will run out at Twickenham in the Red Rose with many writing him off as a weakness in the English back line.

Sam Burgess’s battles with Williams in Australia’s National Rugby League warranted the ticket fee alone, and widely seen as the only man on the New Zealander’s level, it was regarded a major coup when Burgess came to union to join both Bath and the England set-up.

He could prove that to be the case should he help the World Cup hosts see off Wales, but for now the talk will remain of the All Blacks’s own convert who remains a national hero on the other side of the world. On this outing – and the one he should see in Cardiff against Georgia next Friday – it’s fully deserved.