Sonny Bill Williams returns to All Blacks after ban
Aug. 17, 2017
SYDNEY (AP) — Center Sonny Bill Williams has been recalled to the All Blacks team for Saturday's Rugby Championship match against Australia after completing a four-match suspension, while Kurtley Beale will start at inside center for the first time in 60 tests for Australia.
Williams became the first All Blacks player in 50 years to be sent off in a test match for a dangerous shoulder charge on winger Anthony Williams during the second test against the British and Irish Lions at Wellington.
His ban was thought likely to rule him out of Saturday's test at Sydney, but New Zealand successfully appealed a World Rugby ruling on the matches that would count toward his suspension.
Damian McKenzie was named to start a test for the second time at fullback in the absence of Jordie Barrett, who is injured. Ben Smith, returning from a head injury, moves from fullback to the right wing and youngster Rieko Ioane will start on the left wing after the omission of veteran Julian Savea.
Meanwhile, Australia on Thursday named winger Curtis Rona to make his test debut only months after his switch from rugby league. New Zealand-born Rona scored 39 tries in 53 National Rugby League matches for the Bulldogs before joining the Western Force in Super Rugby last August.
He has played only 80 minutes at winger for the Force — being preferred at center — but has earned a call-up in place of Dane Haylett-Perry who has a biceps injury. Rona is one of five changes to the team that turned out in the Wallabies most-recent test against Italy.
Beale has played at inside center in Super Rugby, in his recent stint in England with Wasps and off the bench for the Wallabies but hasn't started in the No. 12 jersey for Australia. He hasn't played for Australia since a 34-17 loss to New Zealand in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham, a stretch of 18 tests in which the Wallabies have won just eight.
Beale's Wallabies career has been plagued by off-field issues. In 2014 he was fined $40,000 for sending an offensive photograph to team business manager Di Patson. He avoided having his Wallabies contract terminated because of a lack of evidence that he sent a second, more offensive text.
In a significant change to the All Blacks team, Liam Squire has been named on the blindside flank in place of Jerome Kaino who has been left out of the match-day 23 in a sign his 81-test career might be nearing its end.
Kieran Read retains the captaincy but may be under pressure after the drawn series against the Lions in which New Zealand lacked leadership.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said he was pleased that that All Blacks will be back in match action after the Lions series.
"There's a real sense of excitement within the group, and a desire to go out and perform well this weekend," Hansen said. "This test will give us a great opportunity to gauge where we are at when it comes to things we have been working on since the Lions tour."
Australia: Israel Folau, Henry Speight, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (captain), Ned Hanigan, Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge, Tevita Kuridrani.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Luke Romano, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.
AP Sports Writer Steve McMorran contributed from Wellington, New Zealand