Auckland's Williams passed fit; Crotty out
DAVID LONG AND RICHARD KNOWLER
All Blacks lock Ali Williams has come through a fitness test and is a definite starter for Auckland in the NPC Premiership final against Canterbury on Saturday.
Williams was forced to miss last weekend's semifinal win over Wellington due to a pinched disc in his back which caused some numbness to his legs.
Auckland coach Wayne Pivac this morning named Williams in his starting team for the weekend, but said he wouldn’t be confirmed until later today.
Pleasingly for Pivac, Williams came through a fitness test and the team’s training session well and will join the rest of the team on the flight to Christchurch tomorrow.
"Ali is obviously very motivated, he is a proud Aucklander," Pivac said.
"He'd like us to do well and he'll play a part if he can get out there on the track and secondly he's very motivated to get on the [All Blacks] end of year tour and I'm sure if he gets out there he'll play a good part."
Meanwhile, for the top-qualifiers Canterbury, midfielder Ryan Crotty and wing Adam Whitelock have not been named in the starting lineup, although Crotty could yet make a return.
Despite Piri Weepu being offered to Pivac by Steve Hansen to play in the final, he has chosen not to include him in the 22, while the other returning All Black, Charles Faumuina, is only starting from the bench.
A player who's destined to be in the All Blacks at some point is fullback Charles Piutau. He has been in stunning form over the NPC and has been talked about as a bolter for the All Blacks' tour.
If that turns out to be the case, Pivac believes he'd do a good job.
"He would relish the opportunity, whether he gets it or not is another story," he said.
"But he's certainly got loads of talent and he's got better as the competition has gone on, in terms of his decision making.
"If he got picked on the end of season tour I'm sure he'd make a good fist of it."
Second five-eighth Crotty, who is still nursing the abdominal strain which ruled him out of last weekend's semi-final win over Taranaki in Christchurch, has again been replaced in the starting side by Tom Taylor.
Although Crotty was able to run at three-quarter pace during training at Rugby Park today he wasn't named in the official team list given to media.
A team spokesperson said this could change if an assessment of his complaint reveals he is comfortable enough to take the field.
Wing Adam Whitelock has been ruled out because of an eye injury. Telusa Veainu will run on the right flank and Willi Heinz, who usually deputises as back-up to halfback Andy Ellis, will start on the left wing.
Christchurch club player Matthew Thatcher, a utility back, has been added to the reserves as cover.
Canterbury coach Tabai Matson, who is looking to add another title to the province's string of successes after Rob Penney guided them to four consecutive wins, has also enlisted All Blacks props Ben Franks and Wyatt Crockett in his front row.
The Canterbury womens' team will face Auckland in the curtain-raiser in their NPC final.
AUCKLAND: Charles Piutau, Ben Lam, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes, Dave Thomas, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson; Joe Edwards, Daniel Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Tom McCartney, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Charlie Faumuina, Nathan Hughes, Sean Polwart. Wayne Ngaluafe, Simon Hickey, Lolagi Visinia.
CANTERBURY: Johnny McNicholl, Telusa Veainu, Robbie Fruean, Tom Taylor, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (captain), Dominic Bird, Joel Everson, Ben Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Jed Brown, Jordan Taufua, Matthew Thatcher, Kolio Hifo, Stephen Gee.
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