Doubt continues to linger over Sonny Bill Williams' presence for next week's test against Australia after the Chiefs midfielder was absent from All Blacks training in Auckland today.
Williams was, instead, taken for medical tests, which were requested from his Japanese club, Panasonic Wild Knights, who are yet to grant approval for him to feature in back-to-back Bledisloe Cup clashes in Sydney and Auckland.
As the rest of the All Blacks 28-man squad trained in Waitakere today, head coach Steve Hansen attempted to downplay the prolonged red tape surrounding Williams' swansong from New Zealand Rugby.
"Panasonic want him to have some medicals done today," Hansen said. "[All Blacks doctor] Deb Robinson has taken him to get some tests. Once we finalise that, we will get red light or green light."
Hansen indicated Williams' services had been requested only after the loss of experienced centre Conrad Smith, who had eye surgery. Richard Kahui is also injured and midfield cover has been stretched. Hansen compared the intense scrutiny levels to when All Blacks captain Richie McCaw battled through the World Cup with a debilitating foot injury.
"Everyone is starting to get a bit panicky about it. It is starting to remind me of Richie's foot really," Hansen smiled.
"It will depend on the medicals and Panasonic. That's who he's got the contract with. Initially, this [two games for the All Blacks] wasn't on the cards. The playing field for Panasonic has changed and they're just doing their due diligence, sometimes that takes time.
"He's not injured, but he's had a big season and Panasonic want to know what they are getting.
"He's sore, but all the Chiefs boys are sore. That's not surprising this time of year. He's played about 20 games.
"There is always a risk; he's going to play two games that they didn't expect him to play. They just want a bit of clarity."
It is understood the NZRU are attempting to put together a fresh two-week contract for Williams that would include an insurance arrangement with Panasonic.
"Player insurance is always a biggie," Hansen confirmed.
While there is concern about Williams' involvement, it still remains likely he will wear the All Blacks' No.12 jersey against the Wallabies.
Privately, the All Blacks are hoping the situation is resolved later today.
"It's starting to wind up now," Hansen said.
"All we can do is get on with what we are doing. We don't start our campaign for the Australian test until Monday proper. He'll be involved in that."
If today's medical tests reveal a surprise injury concern and Panasonic put their foot down and don't let Williams play for the All Blacks, Highlanders utility Tamati Ellison is favoured to combine with Ma'a Nonu at centre. Ben Smith is another option.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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