Sonny Bill Williams will make his first appearance in rugby union in more than 17 months after being named in the Auckland Blues squad for this weekend’s Super Rugby clash against Otago Highlanders, having not played the 15-man game since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, and opening the door to an international return in time for this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.
The 31-year-old switched his focus to the Sevens circuit following the World Cup success at Twickenham in an effort to make the squad that would compete at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, but he tore his Achilles tendon during the group stage in Rio last August and played no further part in the tournament.
Following more than seven months on the sidelines, the two-time Rugby World Cup winner will make his return if he comes off the replacements’ bench in Dunedin, and could do so alongside Warren Gatland’s son, Bryn, with the 21-year-old fly-half also named among the replacements.
Should he prove his fitness over the remainder of the Super Rugby season, Williams could return to the All Blacks set-up in time for the British and Irish Lions tour this summer, with Gatland’s side preparing to travel south for the 10-match tour.
The first Test between New Zealand and the Lions takes place on 24 June, giving Williams more than two months to convince head coach Steve Hansen that he deserves a place among his squad for the three-Test tour. Williams could get an early run-out against the Lions though, with the Blues due to face the midweek side on Wednesday 7 June at Eden Park.
Auckland meanwhile will also have All Blacks back-row Steven Luatua back for this weekend’s derby with the Highlanders after he completed his four-week ban for a dangerous tackle, with Tana Umaga’s side looking to improve their record on their three wins and three losses this season.