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Knowler: NZRU courts controversy with SBW

Last updated 05:00 26/08/2014
READY TO RETURN: Sonny Bill Williams marks red nose day with the All Blacks in 2012. Is the NZRU thumbing its nose at potential All Blacks by letting SBW walk straight back in?
Lawrence Smith/Fairfax NZ

READY TO RETURN: Sonny Bill Williams marks red nose day with the All Blacks in 2012. Is the NZRU thumbing its nose at potential All Blacks by letting SBW walk straight back in?

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OPINION: It's time to talk dollars and spin.

Steve Tew's confirmation that the NZRU board has granted Sonny Bill Williams special dispensation to miss the National Provincial Championship ahead of the All Blacks' northern tour is centred on the fact hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested in this special footballer.

No, no, no, we are told, this is not yet a fait accompli.

The NZRU still hopes Williams will represent Counties-Manukau, thus abiding by the rule which states players must play provincial rugby to be eligible for the national side; but if SBW's commitments with the Sydney Roosters stretch through to the NRL grand final in early October, or he needs to recover from injury, that clause won't apply and he could be fast-tracked into the All Blacks despite not playing rugby here in almost three years.

He's a special case.

The NZRU is eager to start mining for revenue from its nest-egg and carting SBW to the United States where commercial partner, American multinational insurance corporation AIG, is based, appears a good way to start.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also wants to get his hands on the player before the World Cup next year.

So that's the NZRU's spin on it all.

No conspiracy here, guys. Move on, move on; can't you see we are trying to retain the Webb Ellis Cup and because there are no domestic tests next year we will have less time to re-programme SBW into being a rugby union player?

Yes, quite. But there is also another side to this. Why have a clause if the board can remove it? It is nonsense.

The NZRU knows it can get away with this - who is going to stop it after all - but that doesn't make it right.

The NRL grand final is set for October 5. Counties-Manukau's final round-robin game is on October 12. The calendar is tight but SBW could make it happen.

The NZRU could say that is non-negotiable. No play, no tour.

You could also mount a convincing counter-argument that SBW has all of next year's Super Rugby season with the Chiefs to reacquaint himself with the code.

If Wayne Smith remains with the Chiefs - there is still uncertainty as to whether he will stick with the franchise, join the All Blacks or take a complete break - SBW will be guided by one of the best coaches in the sport, and a mentor who provided plenty of support when he arrived in New Zealand in 2010.

A long summer getting his body right and a Super Rugby campaign would give SBW time to prove he deserves to add to his 19 test caps.

You also have to wonder how men such as Ryan Crotty, who did a fine job in the All Blacks' midfield when Ma'a Nonu was unavailable to play the Wallabies last Saturday night, feel when they hear the thump of the red carpet being rolled out for someone who has had nothing to do with the New Zealand domestic game since the 2011 World Cup.

This storm will not go away - it will stream back over the horizon as soon as SBW's NRL duties are completed and he returns to New Zealand to crank-up his All Blacks career.

This could get messy and the NZRU must take some responsibility if he's engulfed in controversy once again.

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