By Lee Stace
IT APPEARS as if All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is leaning heavily towards a Sonny Bill Williams-Ma’a Nonu midfield combination for the first two Rugby Championship tests.
However, it is doubtful whether that is going to bear any significant fruit in the matches against Australia.
As individuals, both players are destructive. They are big, strong and ooze line-breaking ability.
Collectively, though, they are too similar and will offer no variation in the All Blacks’ midfield. Put simply, you can have one of them, but not both.
A quick glance over some of the successful midfield pairings in the history of the game – think Tim Horan and Jason Little and Walter Little and Frank Bunce – and you will see the key to their success was the differing skillsets their sum components brought to the mix.
Their combinations were built around the power and strength of one and the guile and ball skills of the other.
Variety, it seems, is the essential spice when it comes to world-class midfield pairings.
The Williams-SBW tandem could interchange between the centre and second five spots during the game, which would confuse the opposition and offer different points of attack.
However, although the powerful punch that both have in the midfield makes them difficult to contain, particularly off quick ruck ball, it also makes them easier to read on defence. The opposition will know that they look to use their size to get over the advantage line and devise strategies to combat that.
You need more than just strength to get over the advantage line.
Williams and Nonu have combined once before, against England in 2010. That day they struggled to make the impact many had anticipated they would because they ran the same lines and did the same things.
Unless one of them alters their game slightly, it seems the result will be similar this time around.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.