Good year … Sonny Bill Williams will line up for the All Blacks. Photo: AFP
Sonny Bill Williams wasn't the only new face at All Blacks training yesterday - Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and lock Craig Clarke also joined the action in Auckland along with Hurricanes five-eighth Beauden Barrett.
Williams's drawn-out contract saga finally came to a close with the New Zealand Rugby Union and his Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights agreeing to terms for a two-week deal that will see the star midfield back play the first two Bledisloe Cup tests before moving to Asia.
''I think when you know there are going to be a few complications you sit back and relax a bit,'' assistant coach Ian Foster said. ''We've just been waiting. But the fact that he's here training today and was here with us last night is fantastic - we have got a full week's preparation.''
Insurance arrangements have been sorted out and Williams has passed his medical. He looked fit and certainly seemed to be enjoying his time at training. There is little doubt he will team up with Ma'a Nonu in the midfield for Saturday night's opener against the Wallabies in Sydney.
Kerr-Barlow, Clarke and Barrett won't be in the mix for that match, but Foster said the All Blacks felt it was important to get them involved ahead of this second stage of the season - that is the Rugby Championship, which now incorporates Argentina in a four-team competition.
Their presence will help make up numbers for opposed training, as well as give them a taste of the All Blacks' methods. Foster left little doubt that Kerr-Barlow was seen as the next halfback in the pecking order, Barrett had a key role as a back-up No. 10, as was shown in the third test against Ireland, and the All Blacks were keen to monitor Clarke's knee injury with their locking numbers restricted to just three specialists in their current squad of 28.
''Beauden was with us in June, obviously we have reduced our squad size, but it's just a chance to give him a couple of days early in our camp just to keep it fresh in his mind what we are doing,'' Foster said.
Foster knows Kerr-Barlow from his time with the Chiefs and is happy with his progress in their title-winning team this year. He might only be an injury away from being required.
The All Blacks name their team on Thursday afternoon and travel to Sydney that night.