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Hybrid SBW winging it for now

By Chris Matthews

Published: 11:03AM Friday October 07, 2011 Source: ONE Sport

Knockout rugby at World Cups is all about composure and seizing the moment and that is why Sonny Bill Williams has been named on the wing for the quarter-final against Argentina.

Williams has got the nod in the number 11 jersey over Isaia Toeava because his form over the last month has been too hard to overlook, coach Graham Henry said today.

"He has played well in the World Cup - you can't deny that," he said.

"He has made a difference when he has come off the bench and in every game he has played. He has a lot of composure."

Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui are expected to be fit for the semi-finals if the All Blacks do the business at Eden Park on Sunday, but for now SBW gets his chance.

"He is scoring tries and the try he scored in the left corner against Canada, I don't think many other guys would have scored that - he made it look easy," Henry said. "So he does have some ability and it's good to have him."

Before that, Williams also scored three tries from the bench against Japan and France, which is a Rugby World Cup record as a substitute.

While his freakish ability to off-load has always been his main appeal, his unusual running lines and sheer unpredictability have made him a tough customer to mark on the wing.

He may lack out-and-out pace but to Henry SBW is a hybrid footballer who, at a pinch, could also play Test rugby in the loose.

"He can play on the wing, he can play in the midfield and I think he could probably play in the loose forwards," Henry said with a wry smile, determined to keep everyone guessing.

"I guess it's about making practical decisions on his experiences. He has played first class rugby as a loose forward and he certainly has the physique to play there."

On the wing, however, Williams has yet to be truly tested defensively. As the World Cup enters the knockout phase, the high ball tests will be inevitable, especially against a side like Argentina.

But Henry isn't worried.

"He hasn't dropped one yet as far I know," he said

"He has had a few (high balls) so that is the only criteria to use. He will certainly get a few this afternoon (in training) I would imagine."

Henry said it's what his pet project will do once he's caught the ball that is his greatest asset.

"When he catches them, everyone starts to wonder what he will do next so perhaps they won't kick it to him because he might embarrass them."

Whether Henry would consider starting SBW against the Wallabies or Springboks is another question altogether.

For now his path to the midfield is blocked by the experienced Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu.

"There is a midfield partnership that is well established and that is playing particularly well which makes it difficult for him," Henry said. "He has taken his chances elsewhere but he played well in the midfield last week."

Henry said no matter where he plays, Williams is really embracing his first full season with the All Blacks.

"He is enjoying what he is doing and he is enjoying the environment of the All Blacks.

"I think when you are playing consistently ... that's a big part of it isn't it? The trouble is you can't play 30 players every week."

The fact is, despite his profile, Williams is still in his Test infancy. He has only played 11 Tests but gets more attention than nearly anyone in the All Blacks' squad, but that is part of the SBW deal and Henry is all to aware of it.

"He gets a lot of exposure by you people (media) and I'm not being negative about that - that's the way it is - so there is huge expectation of him."

The All Blacks' quarter final match against Argentina kicks off on Sunday at 8.30pm, live on TV ONE.

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