Williams cleared to face Australia

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Sonny Bill Williams was the first All Blacks player for 50 years to be sent off

Sonny Bill Williams can play in New Zealand’s Rugby Championship opener against Australia after successfully appealing against a decision not to include a warm-up match in his ban.

Williams, 32, was suspended for four weeks after being sent off in the second Test against the Lions.

World Rugby had ruled the game against Counties Manukau and Taranaki on 11 August would not count in his ban.

It said it was “surprised” by the independent appeal committee decision.

Next Friday’s match is a ‘game of three halves’, with the provincial sides meeting in a 40-minute game, before the All Blacks face each team in a 40-minute half.

The appeal committee ruled the match had sufficient meaning to be part of Williams’ suspension.

New Zealand face the Wallabies at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on 19 August.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said common sense had prevailed.

He added: “If people turn up to watch this game, does it look like a match? Of course it does. Is it meaningful? Yes, it is.

“It’s not a training run and you think about the Counties and Taranaki players – they’re going to be going for it. It’s a great opportunity for them and it’s 80 minutes played under the normal laws of the game.”

World Rugby said in a statement it was surprised by the committee’s interpretation of the definition of a ‘match’ as regulations define that as “a game in which two teams compete against each other”.

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