The news that Sonny Bill Williams will be eligible to return to the All Blacks without playing a single game of domestic rugby was among the most expected rugby news announcements in 2014, and it isn’t a major surprise.
The NZRU have clearly invested much in Sonny Bill Williams, and having him play in the match against the USA Eagles in Chicago is clearly a pulling point for both the NZRU and the US Rugby Association. The All Blacks versus USA match will be a massive brand builder for the game of rugby in the states, and it would in many ways be fitting for Williams to be present for that in some shape or form.
In a perfect world, the US Rugby Association would like to have Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, and Sonny Bill Williams all playing in the All Blacks squad, for both revenue and the viewer numbers those players bring on their own.
The most important factor in today’s debate has been the rules of the NZRU. Rules are, a player has to have been playing domestic rugby in order to be eligible for international selection. Is it right that Sonny Bill Williams, despite his credentials, be allowed to be given exemption of this?
A lot of people both inside and outside of rugby think not, and have taken to social media today to express the injustice.
It is important to keep in mind that none of this may even be an issue.
If the Sydney Roosters do not make the NRL Grand Final, then Williams is almost certain to play a game for the Counties Manukau Steelers before the All Black tour of the US and Europe begins in early November.
In many aspects, if Williams were to play for the All Blacks without playing a single game upon his return to union, it would indeed be a little unfair on other players who perhaps should be in the All Blacks, and have justified those selections through form.
The NZRU have left the selection of Williams completely up to All Black coach Steve Hanson, though it is hard to not see the brand that is SBW pulling on the black jersey before the year is out.