WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams returned to the rugby field on Saturday after serving a four-match ban for picking up a red card during the British and Irish Lions test series.
The 32-year-old played about 60 minutes in an intra-squad game for his provincial side Counties-Manukau’s ‘B’ side after his ban ended on Friday when the All Blacks played a warm-up game without him ahead of their Rugby Championship opener.
“Hopefully I put my best foot forward now by training hard and putting my hand up for selection,” Williams told local media following the game in Pukekohe, south of Auckland.
“We’ll see how we go. It’s going to be a tough battle.”
Williams had not played since July 1 after he was sent off in the second Lions test for a dangerous shoulder charge on winger Anthony Watson.
He is almost certain to return to the All Blacks’ starting lineup for the Aug. 19 clash against Australia after initially being ruled out of the game by World Rugby.
The world governing body deemed that New Zealand’s ‘three-way’ warm-up game against two provincial teams on Friday did not comply as a match and could not count as part of his suspension.
An independent judicial committee, however, upheld an appeal last week overturning the earlier decision.
World Rugby said at the time that while they respected the independent committee’s decision they were “surprised by the... interpretation of the definition of ‘match’”.
The All Blacks beat Taranaki 57-7 in one half of the game on Friday before routing Counties 49-0 in the other, running in a total of 16 tries.
The world champions head to Sydney on Sunday to prepare for the Wallabies clash.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien