World Rugby 'surprised' after Sonny Bill Williams wins appeal over dangerous charge ban
New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams will be available for the All Blacks' Rugby Championship opener against Australia on August 19.
Williams has won his appeal against the details of his four-match suspension following his red card in New Zealand's 24-21 loss in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington in July.
Global governing body World Rugby revealed "surprise" at the decision of an independent appeal panel to deem New Zealand's August 11 encounter against Counties Manukau and Taranaki - with the All Blacks playing 40 minutes against each side - as meeting the regulations constituting a match.
"A game being played by New Zealand against Counties Manukau and Taranaki on 11 August that had been excluded from the suspension by the original disciplinary committee, has now been deemed to comply with the regulations' definition of a 'match'," read a statement issued on behalf of World Rugby.
"And, as such, that match will be included as part of the player's suspension. Accordingly, Williams is suspended from all forms of rugby up to and including 11 August."
World Rugby later responded to the ruling by issuing its own statement, insisting it will respect Williams' right to face Australia next month - but that it will seek clarity on just what represents a match among rugby's complex rules and regulations.
"While World Rugby respects the decision of the independent appeal committee to uphold the appeal by New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams against the matches that counted towards his four-week suspension, it is surprised by the committee's interpretation of the definition of "match" (which is defined in Regulation 1 as "a game in which two teams compete against each other")," read World Rugby's statement.
"With the appeal process having been exhausted, World Rugby will refer the interpretation of the regulation to the Regulations Committee when it meets in September to examine the findings in the context of the game's regulations to ensure universal clarity and compliance with the meaning of the regulation moving forward."
Williams was sent off by French referee Jerome Garces during New Zealand's second Test defeat against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington last month.
He received a four-week ban following the red card for a dangerous charge into the head of Lions wing Anthony Watson.
Centre Williams, though, appealed against the matches that counted towards his suspension, and has now proved successful with that challenge.
New Zealand face the Wallabies in Sydney on August 19, with Garces the match referee, and Blues centre Williams now eligible for selection.