New Zealand All Blacks Rugby News

Smith backs Williams and Donald to make All Black tour



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All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith is backing Ali Williams and Stephen Donald to be fit for the end of year tour which takes in matches in Hong Kong and the UK and Ireland.

Lock Ali Williams featured throughout the Tri Nations but was always doubtful just ahead of matches and then making the final cut just before match day.

Williams’ problems started when he sprained his ankle in the second Test against England in Christchurch in June and in order for him to regain full fitness he has not taken part in the Air New Zealand Cup but coach Smith says that he is encouraged by his progress.

“Ali has been running for the last week or so and I think his recovery from an ankle injury has been pretty good so that’s pretty promising,” Smith told PA Sport.

Williams return to fitness will be a boost for Head coach Graham Henry as Williams and Brad Thorn formed a formidable partnership and were were instrumental in New Zealand’s Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations triumphs this season.

The All Blacks have a tough tour this season and it kicks off against Australia in Hong Kong before Tests against Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England on successive weekends plus a mid-week game against Munster.

Dan Carter’s back-up at first five-eighth, Stephen Donald is battling his way back to fitness from a rib cartilage injury he suffered in his only appearance for Waikato at the start of the month.

The injury ruled Donald out of the Mooloos’ final round-robin match against Taranaki and is similar to the one he suffered at the end of the Super 14 campaign and Smith was confident the No.10 would bounce back quickly again.

“He recovered from that in two or three weeks, so I imagine he’s not in doubt,” Smith said.

“He’s also shown the ability to come on for us under real pressure with very little game-time under the belt.

“He’s mentally tough, he’s got a bit of X-factor and I think he’ll be okay.”

Surprisingly Smith said that if Donald is still struggling at the start of the tour he could look at halfback Piri Weepu as a cover option.

Weepu has switched between nine and 10 with some success for Wellington this year and Smith said “He’s certainly interesting as a cover option – I don’t know whether he’d be a starting option for us at 10.

“But just the fact that he is able to play there and play at a high level is good for him, good for us, and gives us some options on the bench if we’re ever in that position.”

The All Blacks squad will be named on October 26 which is the day after the Air New Zealand Cup final.

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