All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has defended Sonny Bill Williams from criticism in New Zealand media, praising the midfielder’s ‘hard work’ on the field after a long comeback from an Achilles injury.
The 32-year-old has endured a tough reception from home media this season, with pundits declaring him a spent force after some low-key performances during the Rugby Championship.
Hansen, however, said he was satisfied with Williams’s output given his long rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles tendon during the rugby sevens tournament at last year’s Rio Olympics.
“Here’s a guy who’s come off an Achilles injury. A notoriously slow injury to come back from,” Hansen told New Zealand media on Tuesday in the leadup to the third and final Bledisloe Cup test against Australia.
“He’s playing well. When he’s a flashy player everyone moans about him being too flashy and that he doesn’t do the hard work, at the moment he’s doing all the hard work and probably not as much of the other stuff that people get excited about.
“He is getting down and dirty and doing the hard work. We are quite happy with him.”
Dual code international Williams has failed to terrorise opponents with his usual explosive runs and off-loads this year but his defence has been sound and he made over 20 tackles to help the All Blacks to a 25-24 win over South Africa.
“He has always been a player who has been loved by you blokes (in the media) or hated by you blokes,” added Hansen.
“It is a 50-50 split. When he does things wrong all the haters get on top of it, and when he does things right all the good guys get on top of it.
“He is a good international rugby player.”
The All Blacks will bid to sweep the Bledisloe series 3-0 at Lang Park in Brisbane on Saturday but may have to do so without flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who Hansen said was still suffering headaches following an on-field clash against the Springboks.
“He’s trained but afterwards he’s not feeling a hundy (100 percent) so we’ll see how he goes during the week and if he’s not right he won’t play,” Hansen said.
Uncapped back Richie Mo’unga was called into the All Blacks squad on Monday as temporary cover in the flyhalf position.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)