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All Blacks selection analysis - Second five-eighth

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James Mortimer     07 May 2012     Getty Images

Williams has been in scintillating form for the Chiefs this season.

He still possesses his freakish offload, leading the competition for passing out of the tackle, but has added more to his game, notably happy to straighten the attack and take the ball into contact.

This was a quiet suggestion from Sir Graham Henry last season, and he appears to have taken it to heart.

Nonu has been an angry menace in recent weeks, putting in some stinging hits in defence while clearly trying to carry the Blues on his immense shoulders at times.

But he has not been as dominant when he finished 2011 as arguably the best 12 in the game.

Direct comparisons are difficult, considering their respective franchise’s fortunes and each player’s schedule since the Rugby World Cup.

Williams followed the path of most of the All Blacks World Cup winners, taking a well-deserved rest after New Zealand defeated France 8-7 to win the 2011 tournament.

However not only did he spend time away from the rugby field, but ensured that his training regime remained constant, preparing for his February 8 boxing match with Clarence Tillman, who Williams defeated in the first round with a technical knockout.

While this may have delayed his debut for the Chiefs, he linked up with the Waikato based franchise fit and ready to play, and started in their final trial match against the Hurricanes in Taupo.

The 14-test All Black has had other advantages, namely playing behind arguably the form pack of the competition, while he has had stability and class with Aaron Cruden and Richard Kahui playing alongside him.

Nonu has had none of these advantages.

The International Rugby Board World Player of the Year nominee headed to Japan following the World Cup, playing for the Ricoh Black Rams.

He had some ‘time off’ after the Japanese season concluded and he linked back up with the Blues, but this was no off-season, and with the three-time champions having a difficult campaign, Nonu was named in the team at the earliest opportunity.

Further to this is the fact that Nonu hasn’t played consistently with players in the backline, with a mix of injuries and varied selections meaning that he hasn’t been able to rely on the class of a Cruden to assist in setting up his play.

What All Blacks coach Steve Hansen decides will be intriguing based on the circumstances above.

On form one would suggest he would pick Williams, but the advantage Nonu has is that he is the incumbent second five-eighth, has played 63-test matches, and has proven that he can put aside less than spectacular form to do the business in the international arena.

Both players are off-contract at the end of the season, so their All Blacks chances in 2012 could have a factor in their future – although both players, while friends, clearly thrive off the competition they present each other.

Of course there is the dark horse of Dan Carter, who has been playing at second five-eighth so far this season, but one wouldn’t expect Hansen to shift the All Blacks premier playmaker out by one position.