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For Sonny Bill Williams in these All Blacks the more things change, the more they stay the same.
At his third Rugby World Cup now, one of three players chasing a remarkable hat-trick of global crowns, and nine years after he first pulled on the famous black jersey of his country, the enigmatic midfielder finds himself in the exact same position as when he started out.
That is to say Williams, at a ripe-old 33 years of age, has been charged with bringing his thunderous, game-changing impact off the bench in Saturday night’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Ireland in Tokyo. The last two global tournaments he found himself playing behind quite possibly the best centres pairing the All Blacks have ever had. This one he backs up a pair of 24-year-olds who represent the future, as well as the present, of the Kiwi game.
* All Blacks name team for Ireland
* Hansen opts for youth and power
* Goodhue, ALB win midfield slots
* Sexton, Murray start for Ireland
* England shift Farrell back to 10
* Jordie’s boot seals bench spot
* Download Stuff’s RWC wallchart
* RWC results and pool standings
Midfield was probably the most contestable selection area in this side, with all four contenders worthy of consideration, and bringing different strengths to the table. But in the end coach Steve Hansen has paired the in-form Anton Lienert-Brown with hard-running Crusaders No 13 Jack Goodhue and will bring Williams off the pine as the calming late-game influence.
It’s a formula that worked brilliantly when he played alongside the wonderful Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith and which Hansen has gone back to for the first knockout match of this tournament.
“They’re great players and for me and [Ryan] Crotty … who is is not playing … our job is to prepare them as best we can. For us midfielders we pride ourselves on trying to be world class, whoever is in that 12 and 13 jersey, or
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