As red tape complications continue to cast doubt over Sonny Bill Williams' involvement with the All Blacks, Cory Jane pronounced he is ready to reclaim his spot in Sydney next week.
The Japanese are known as sticklers for detail - and Williams' next club, Panasonic Wild Knights, are proving no different.
What was expected to be a smooth negotiation process for Williams' sought-after services has turned into a protracted, unwanted sideshow.
Yesterday, Panasonic moved to protect their most valuable investment by insisting Williams undergo medical examination before they grant approval for him to start successive Rugby Championship tests against the Wallabies in Sydney and Auckland.
Panasonic want proof that the Chiefs' taxing campaign did not damage their prized possession. For the New Zealand Rugby Union, there is also the matter of a new two-week contract, which includes a costly player insurance agreement.
While the rest of the All Blacks' 28-man squad trained before last night's hit-out against a combined Counties Manukau and Auckland team in Pukekohe, Williams was absent. He was, instead, whisked through medical tests.
Eight days out from the crucial Bledisloe Cup clash, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who hoped the situation would be resolved swiftly, remains none the wiser as to whether Williams will be available to cover the injury absences of Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui.
Contingency plans are being put in place, with Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith vying for a place in the midfield, alongside certain starter Ma'a Nonu. But this is not ideal preparation.
“It will depend on the medicals and Panasonic. Once we finalise that, we will get a red light or green light,” Hansen said yesterday.
“Everyone is starting to get a bit panicky about it. It is starting to remind me of Richie's foot really.”
Jane, meanwhile, feels the ankle injury which kept him out of the All Blacks' 3-0 sweep of Ireland in June allowed him to rejuvenate and return to peak condition.
“It's bad not being involved but hopefully I come out of it in better shape. I feel fitter, stronger and faster,” Jane said after producing personal-best fitness testing results.
The classy Hurricanes finisher has a knack of strutting his best on the international stage.
Having knocked Zac Guildford out of the squad, Jane is likely to start on the right wing against the Wallabies, with team-mate Julian Savea and Hosea Gear fighting for the No 11 spot.
Jane believed, at times, he had become too comfortable in the All Blacks, but with Ben Smith, Gear and Savea competing, he could not be complacent.
“I've had it in the past where you start on the wing and take it for granted and then all of a sudden you're not in the team or you haven't been picked,” he said. “Having guys around who push you, every time you go out you have to perform because you can be gone, just like that.”
Last night's 40-minute trial in South Auckland also marked the return of another integral figure, Kieran Read.
The world-class No 8 missed the Crusaders' knockout matches with a rib cartilage complaint.
“It's good for his confidence,” Hansen said of Read. “It's not do-or-die. He got through training well and he's done quite a bit from a physical point of view over the last 10 days. It will be good for him to go into the Aussie game with a bit of fitness.”
Hansen was confident Crusaders lock Luke Romano would recover from his AC shoulder injury to be available for selection next week.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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