SONNY BILL WILLIAMS was absent from All Blacks training again yesterday but management remain hopeful he will be in the mix for Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia.
The All Blacks trained behind closed doors in Auckland and there was no sign of Williams. He remains in the middle of a contract web between his new Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights and the New Zealand Rugby Union, which wants him available for the consecutive clashes against Australia because of midfield injury problems to Conrad Smith on top of the earlier loss of Richard Kahui.
''It's pretty close … we're pretty hopeful,'' All Blacks manager Darren Shand said last night. ''There are a number of parties that have to be happy … a number of pieces of a jigsaw that have to be put together.''
With the Test that opens the new Rugby Championship looming quickly, Shand said there was a desire to get things resolved ''earlier rather than later''.
The All Blacks are training in Auckland, leaving for Sydney on Thursday night for the match.
Williams had a medical on Friday to satisfy his Japanese club of his fitness after an arduous Super Rugby campaign, which ended with the superstar scoring the final try in the Chiefs' grand final win over the Sharks last Saturday.
The All Blacks are comfortable Williams can get back up to speed quickly with their methods. He starred in the clean sweep of Ireland in June. In the meantime, they have been using Ma'a Nonu, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith in various midfield combinations.
Skipper Richie McCaw made it clear he expected Williams to be in the mix. ''With Conrad injured, having Sonny, Ma'a and Tamati available in the midfield certainly helps,'' he said.