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Smith hopeful Williams is New Zealand bound

Roar Rookie
7th June, 2010
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All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith hopes the reports are right about Sonny Bill Williams and says the national selectors will pick him for the end-of-year tour if he impresses in provincial rugby.

Smith said he hadn’t heard official word that Williams had turned down a three-year, $6 million-plus contract offer from French club Toulon to chase his All Blacks dream, but read reports with interest.

“I haven’t spoken to him so I don’t know. I’ve read the articles and we’re hoping he’ll come because you want good players here having a crack,” Smith said on Monday.

Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper reported the former Kiwis league international, 24, had decided to sign with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and would ink a deal this week.

The offer, reportedly around $NZ500,000 ($A407,000), apparently gives Williams the choice of provincial and Super 15 sides plus an opt-out clause if he doesn’t make the All Blacks.

Smith said the selectors had no knowledge of what Williams would be paid, and felt no pressure to choose the midfielder for the tour of Hong Kong and Europe with an eye to the World Cup. They would go solely on form in the ITM Cup which starts in July.

“We picked players from that (competition) last year for the end-of-year tour and some of them did well. He just falls into that category. Like everyone else, we watch them play and try to pick the form players,” Smith said.

“He’s got the physical dimensions, he’s got the talent, he’s done it at NRL level and done it at Toulon. Who knows? Unless you have a crack you’ll never know.

“My gut feeling is he’s got the right attitude and that’s really important. He’s not certain himself so you can guarantee he’ll be putting plenty into it if he does come back.”

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Meanwhile, Smith rejected reports that he was steering Williams towards the Crusaders after meeting his agent Khoder Nasser on his recent visit to the franchise.

Williams is tipped to link up with Counties-Manukau in July, where his Toulon teammate Tana Umaga will be player-coach, while a desire to play alongside Dan Carter could make the Crusaders his Super 15 team of choice.

Smith said it was standard practice, as a Christchurch resident, that he would show Nasser around the Crusaders as Graham Henry did when Nasser visited the Blues and Chiefs.

Smith met Williams in France last year and was impressed by his desire to prove himself in the 15-man game.

“I want him to come to New Zealand because he’s got a dream and it’d be great for a young man like that to follow his dream and have a crack at it,” Smith said.