Wallabies unfazed by Sonny Bill's inclusion
Confirmation of Sonny Bill Williams' availability for the opening Bledisloe Cup tests of the Rugby Championship proved as earth-shattering as the calibre of his two performances against Australia so far when news filtered through to the Wallabies yesterday.
Will Genia and Digby Ioane shrugged, applied their game faces, and also stated the obvious when asked how they intended to negate an All Blacks midfield now featuring two prime attacking threats in the multi-code superstar and, Ma'a Nonu.
"You've got just got to chop him down, not give him too much space and flood those offload channels so you don't give them that second phase play," explained the Wallabies halfback, quoting the strategy employed against Williams since the New Zealand rugby component of his career started in 2010.
From his cameo for Belfast in the Christchurch club competition hours before the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe trophy up the road at AMI Stadium, Williams has generally captivated the rugby world at provincial, Super Rugby and international level.
Yet if an opponent has had his measure it is the Wallabies, and also Queensland where Genia, Ioane and Anthony Fainga'a - who is expected to mark Williams on Saturday at ANZ Stadium - have had success in limiting his impact.
Williams was unable to impose himself against the Reds twice in 2011 when playing for the Crusaders and although he scored a try at Suncorp Stadium as a Chief in May the eventual champions still lost 42-27.
His trans-Tasman test record is also unremarkable: 12 minutes off the bench at Eden Park last August as Nonu was preferred as Conrad Smith's midfield partner; in the World Cup two months later he was yellow carded three minutes after joining the semifinal as a late substitute for a shoulder charge on Quade Cooper.
So Williams has hardly enjoyed 15 minutes of fame against the Wallabies - not that Genia and Ioane are confident about compounding the NRL-bound star's frustrations before his detour to Japanese club rugby after next weekend's clash in Auckland.
Ioane and Genia thought Williams was a far more dangerous proposition in 2012, based on his contribution to the Chiefs inaugural Super Rugby title, and the three-test series against Ireland in June.
"He had an awesome season, he's done so well for himself. From last year he's moved on to another level," said Ioane, the Wallabies' premier wing.
Genia also felt Williams had matured in his third year of top flight rugby.
"He brings a lot to that group, he's an impact player for 80 minutes. He busts tackles, runs hard at the line and gets them momentum, looks for those offloads."
Williams showed none of those attributes in the semifinal, and has probably not reviewed the tape.
Meanwhile, Genia has also passed on the opportunity to relive that comprehensive 20-6 defeat at All Black rugby's stronghold.
"It's irrelevant, we're a completely different group to what we were going into that semifinal," he said, although 15 of the 22-man match day squad have been retained for the Rugby Championship.
"There's been a whole coaching restructure in terms of specific roles from defence, to attack, to breakdown, restarts that sort of thing," he continued.
"We're coming into this campaign as a new group."
Genia would not confirm it but there seems little doubt a significant point of difference will be evident in the backline where Berrick Barnes will retain the first five-eighth role ahead of Cooper.
On the comeback trail from a serious knee injury and being terrorised by Kiwi crowds during the World Cup, the playmaker is destined to be given more time to rebuild his physical and mental wellbeing.