Ali Williams gets surprise call south
Ali Williams continues to figure heavily in Steve Hansen's plans for the All Blacks' northern tour.
Although Williams, who hasn't played since injuring his knee against Ireland in Christchurch on June 16, took only a limited part in yesterday's training at Forsyth Barr Stadium, his presence in the All Blacks camp reinforces the value Hansen places on the experienced lock.
Hansen has always maintained that he rates what Williams, who has played 75 tests, can add in terms of experience and off-field knowledge and he indicated he would consider him, if fit, for the end-of-season tour.
Having Williams on the All Blacks' current circuit also allows their medical staff to monitor the knee injury which has prevented him playing any ITM Cup matches for Auckland.
“We are obviously pretty keen to track his progress," All Blacks manager Darren Shand said. “He was down last week, he is in this week and has got the best part of a couple of weeks [with us] - and we are hoping that he might get some action in the ITM Cup before we pick the side for the end of year tour."
Williams had a knee operation in late June. Before the Rugby Championship squad was named it was discovered he had suffered a setback because of bone bruising.
All parties will be conscious he must play to prove his fitness, with the All Blacks' opening northern tour match against Scotland in Edinburgh on November 12.
Although Hansen has carried just three locks in the Rugby Championship because he believes No 8 Kieran Read can provide cover in an emergency, four will be required for the month-long northern tour.
Taranaki's Craig Clarke and Jarrad Hoeata are leading candidates if Williams is not fit; the former, given his gritty performances when he led the Chiefs to their Super Rugby title, is likely to be at shorter odds than Hoeata.
Although Williams, 31, is unable to be an active participant on the practice pitch it is expected he will provide locks Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock insights into the Springboks on Saturday night.
If the partnership of Romano and Retallick, who started against Argentina in Wellington last week, is retained it will be their first outing against the Springboks.
Meanwhile, getting to Dunedin also proved problematic for Williams. He had to overcome three aborted landing attempts at Dunedin Airport on Monday evening before being forced to return to stay in Christchurch overnight.
Yesterday morning Williams, along with No 8 Kieran Read, who had stayed with his young family on Sunday and Monday, was on a flight forced to return to Christchurch because of an electrical fault. They were transferred to another plane, which successfully negotiated the driving sleet and snow at Dunedin Airport.
Upon their arrival the pair were whisked off to training.