Many options on horizon for Nanai-Williams

FLEET-FOOTED: Chiefs utility Tim Nanai-Williams looks to evade a tackle during last season’s Super Rugby final victory over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
FLEET-FOOTED: Chiefs utility Tim Nanai-Williams looks to evade a tackle during last season’s Super Rugby final victory over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.

Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge has hinted at a midfield role for outside back Tim Nanai-Williams.

The exciting 23-year-old, who made his Super Rugby debut in 2010, is accomplished at both wing and fullback and looked to hit his straps quickly in the opening pre-season match against the Highlanders last weekend.

But don't be surprised to see him closer to the centre of the park at some stage, despite Strawbridge believing Nanai-Williams is "one of the best wingers in the country".

"I think the All Blacks selectors have got to be looking at him as an outside back option if he backs up what he did last year, this year," Strawbridge said. "But there's a couple of positions we're looking possibly at using him in."

Asked if that meant other than fullback and wing, Strawbridge replied: "Somewhere else. I won't talk about that."

But when prompted about the idea of first five-eighth, he said: "Not 10, we've got some pretty good 10s."

That leaves the specialised role of halfback or a spot in the 12 or 13 jersey.

Strawbridge said there were a lot of things the team trained for last year which they didn't necessarily put on the park, and with a backline missing last year's size, but gaining more speed, he said they had to think cleverly about what they do.

Nanai-Williams said the coaches threw the question of where he wants to play to him at the beginning of the year, but he told them he doesn't mind where.

More importantly, he just wants to improve on his efforts from last year.

"Even though we won a championship and people say I played pretty well, for me, I don't really sit on last year's results," Nanai-Williams said. "This is a new year and I really want to get out there and make another mark. There are a few things in my game that I really want to work on."

Last year Nanai-Williams' season was hampered by a groin injury which he said came about from not looking after his body.

Looking to take on more of a leadership role with the team this year, Nanai-Williams said he was passing on his knowledge to less experienced backs Bundee Aki, Augustine Pulu, Charlie Ngatai and Gareth Anscombe.

"I've been through the highs and lows of this team," he said. "I like to put my five cents in now and then. If sometimes I need to talk I'll talk and be a leader, but I'm more of a guy that likes to get out and do things."

Strawbridge has noticed Nanai-Williams speaking a lot more, constructively and effectively, and believed he had a big impact, off the field as much as on it, when he went back to Counties-Manukau for the ITM Cup last year.

Tonight the Chiefs face the Reds on the Sunshine Coast in their second pre-season outing.

The hosts were set to welcome back skipper James Horwill after a long injury layoff, having torn his hamstring last May, but he twisted his ankle at training this week and that has ruled him out.

The Chiefs haven't taken Robbie Robinson or Richard Kahui to the Sunshine Coast, as they're still a couple of weeks away from returning from injury.

Coach Dave Rennie has elected to start Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden, and is looking for his side to improve their quality of ball carrying.

Meanwhile, Nanai-Williams is hoping he and his team-mates can get to watch his cousin, Sonny Bill Williams, in his boxing match-up with Francois Botha in Brisbane - a bout which will see Reds player Quade Cooper on the undercard.

Super Rugby pre-season: Reds v Chiefs Sunshine Coast, tonight, 10pm

Reds: Luke Morahan, Rod Davies, Ben Tapuai, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Eddie Quirk, Rob Simmons, Ed O'Donaghue, James Slipper (c), Saia Faingaa, Greg Holmes. Res: Albert Anae, James Hanson, Jono Owen, Ed O'Donaghue, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Nigel Ah Wong, Curtis Browning, Jarrad Butler, Nick Frisby, Dion Taumata, Chris F'Sautia, Aidan Toua, Dom Shipperly.

Chiefs: Tim Nanai-Williams, Patrick Osborne, Andrew Horrell, Charlie Ngatai, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Ross Filipo, Brodie Retallick, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Toby Smith. Res: Maritino Nemani, Bundee Aki, Gareth Anscombe, August Pulu, Tanerau Latimer, Matthew Vant Leven, Michael Fitzgerald, Nick Crosswell, Hika Elliot, Michael Kainga, Pauliasi Manu.

Waikato Times