Sevens injury stalls Sonny Bill Williams' return to All Blacks
Sonny Bill Williams' Olympics dream is over and his All Blacks return stalled after suffering a cruel injury in Rio.
Williams was forced off as New Zealand suffered a shock 14-12 loss to 10th ranked Japan in the opening round of the men's sevens on Wednesday (NZ time).
The New Zealand Olympic team confirmed Williams suffered a partial Achilles rupture. He could be out of action for up to nine months as he rehabilitates, throwing his future plans with the All Blacks into disarray. He is expected to return to New Zealand this week.
The injury occurred when he took a crash ball into two defenders. He had to be assisted off the field and then moved into the medical room via a golf cart.
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His ambulance driver then lost his way en route to hospital.
Williams' sister Niall said she had spoken to her brother who confirmed the ambulance mix-up.
He told me the ambulance driver got a bit lost, it was a bit funny, it kind of took the edge off it a bit," Niall, who won a silver medal with the New Zealand women's sevens team, told TV One.
"I feel for him because we have both been on this journey together. I know the sacrifices, the hard work, the sweat and tears that have been put in getting to this point in time."
Williams was replaced in the Olympics squad by travelling reserve Sione Malia.
The New Zealand sevens team also lost Joe Webber to injury in the embarrassing loss to Japan.
However, the team kept their medal chances alive with a 28-5 win over Kenya in their second game of the day.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF SBW INJURY
Williams' return to the XVs scene will now take a back seat to his recovery, and Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown may receive a call up to the All Blacks.
Chiefs centre Seta Tamanivalu is also in the frame to replace Williams, but the All Blacks may feel they need more specialised second five-eighth cover, which would lean in Lienert-Brown's favour.
Tamanivalu's struggles defensively in his first two tests against Wales in June may also count against him.
Charlie Ngatai would be the preferred option, but he continues to recover from concussion and will need to make a comeback with Taranaki in the NPC before being considered.
The 21-year-old Lienert-Brown, uncapped in the test arena but called in to the All Blacks wider training group last week, was a revelation for the Chiefs in both midfield roles across his 14 games this year.
Crucially, he is one of the better midfield defenders. He is also strong with ball in hand and has sound distribution skills.
For the opening Bledisloe Cup test on August 20 in Sydney, the All Blacks are likely to favour Ryan Crotty at second-five with either Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala at centre.
Williams had just been named in the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship and was expected to be available for the second round match against the Wallabies in Wellington on August 27.
It's unlikely he will now be back in time for the All Blacks end of year tour to the United States and Europe.
All Blacks hooker and Hurricanes captain Dane Coles said he has confidence whoever steps into the breach will do a good job for the team.
"It's obviously very gutting. He's a world class player, but the thing with the All Blacks is when someone gets an opportunity, they usually step up, so I don't know who they're going to call in, but I'm sure whoever gets that chance, they'll step up."
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew is attending the Rio Olympics and confirmed the worst about Williams.
"He will be out of rugby for six to nine months," Tew told Newstalk ZB. "He will be unavailable for the All Blacks and Steve [Hansen] and the other coaches will have to start thinking about a replacement. Whoever gets that chance will make the most of it."
Williams, who hasn't played XVs since the World Cup final at Twickenham last year, was keeping positive tweeting from the Rio medical room that he was "down but not out".
The All Blacks gather in Auckland on Thursday afternoon and have a warm-up match against Counties-Manukau and Northland at Pukekohe on Friday night.
They fly to Sydney on Sunday for the Rugby Championship opener.
Sonny Bill Williams is helped from the pitch after suffering an ankle injury. Photo: Reuters
Williams will be missed by the Olympics where he was a headline act and very much the face of the new Olympics sport given his massive profile in rugby.
He had been busy on social media much to the delight of rugby officials keen to promote sevens through the Olympics.
Williams had tweeted out photos of himself with sporting superstars Rafael Nadal and Usain Bolt around the Olympics village.
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