Sonny Bill Williams’s much anticipated return to Test rugby was put on hold by tonsilitis Thursday when the ailing centre was ruled out of the All Blacks squad to face South Africa.
The All Blacks said early Thursday that Williams would start on the bench in Saturday’s Rugby Championship fixture, but he was scratched from the squad just a few hours later.
Williams, 33, missed the first two Tests against France last June, following knee surgery. He played 58 minutes of the third Test before injuring his shoulder, and has been out of action since.
The two-time World Cup-winner’s on-again, off-again return comes as Hansen announced wholesale changes for the Springboks match.
There are 10 changes to the run-on side and five on the bench in a strong All Blacks combination looking to extend their unbeaten record in the fourth-round Rugby Championship match.
Ryan Crotty, Sam Cane and Rieko Ioane all made the starting line-up after missing last week’s Test against Argentina because of injury.
Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett are reunited in the halves while Anton Lienert-Brown will play at outside centre.
Rieko Ioane returns from injury to the left wing, while Ben Smith moves to the right wing to make way for Jordie Barrett at fullback.
In the forwards, Sam Whitelock moves into the number four jersey, with Brodie Retallick injured, and Patrick Tuipulotu comes onto the bench as lock cover for his first Test of 2018.
Liam Squire and Cane return as flankers, with the Otago Highlanders’ Liam Coltman promoted to back-up hooker ahead of Nathan Harris.
The unbeaten All Blacks lead the Rugby Championship with 15 points from three bonus-point wins.
South Africa, Argentina and Australia have one win each, with South Africa second in the table courtesy of two bonus points.
When the All Blacks last played South Africa, in Cape Town last year, they scraped home 25-24 to complete a clean sweep of the championship, after comfortably winning the first leg 57-0 in New Zealand.
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