Old Blacks? Ageing warrior’s warning to Wallabies
SONNY Bill Williams has dared the Wallabies and pundits to write off the ageing All Blacks in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup decider, as Australia seek to pull off their first series win in 17 years.
The backlash to New Zealand's record loss to the Wallabies last week in Perth has been brutal, with many commentators declaring the All Blacks' decade of dominance is over and even former Kiwi coach John Hart taking aim at older players Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Ben Smith.
The All Blacks could have up to eight players aged 30 and over in their starting side at Eden Park, while five-eighth Christian Lealiifano (31), Kurtley Beale (30) and David Pocock (31) would be the only likely starting candidates beyond that age mark for Australia.
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But Williams, the All Blacks' Methuselah at 34, said the desire among the senior crew to retain the trophy remains as high as ever.
"Australia are coming, we know that, but we're hungry to keep that Bledisloe as well - so don't forget that," Williams said.
The former NRL star is likely playing his final Bledisloe Cup match and last game at the famed Eden Park, where Australia have not won since 1986, and Williams brushed off the notion the Kiwis are now too old and too slow.
"Time will tell, I just love that analogy of being where your feet are, that's what we need to do, whether you're old, whether it's your first game, whether it's your 100th cap," Williams said.
"We just need to be where our feet are, go out there this weekend and play the way we know we can play."
The All Blacks have nine players in their wider squad aged 30 and over, while the Wallabies have 10, but most of them are not in contention for starting spots.
Aside from flanker Matt Todd, New Zealand's ageing players are all vying for starting spots this weekend, while Australian veterans Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tatafu-Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Dane Haylett-Petty, James Slipper and Rob Simmons would be bench contenders at best after last weekend's 47-26 result.
Of New Zealand's incredible 16-year win streak, Whitelock said: "No one wants to be part of the team that has to let them take it, so it's on the group of guys we have here at the moment to make sure that doesn't happen."
Williams is back in the selection mix after playing club rugby in the past fortnight, and with centre Jack Goodhue ruled out with a hamstring injury, he will compete against Ngani Laumape for a starting inside centre spot to line up against the Wallabies.
"The Australian mentality is pretty much this; they can win one week, and then lose by 50, but the next week they'll come out and still have the same mindset that 'We're going to give this a go'," Williams said.
"Last week they came to play, they came with that fire, and we're going to have to match that this week if we're any chance of holding that Bledisloe."
THE OLD BLACKS
Sonny Bill Williams, 34
Kieran Read, 33
Ben Smith, 33
Dane Coles, 32
Owen Franks, 31
Matt Todd, 31
Sam Whitelock, 30
Aaron Smith, 30
Joe Moody, 30