All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams has been declared available for the Rugby Championship opening clash against Australia in Sydney on 19th August.
The decision comes after New Zealand rugby decided to appeal against the ban of the Auckland Blues centre following his shoulder charge on British and Irish Lions' Anthony Watson during the second Test in Wellington which the visitors won 21-24. Williams also became the first New Zealand player to be sent-off in 50 years following the incident.
However, Williams, whose original suspension was due to end with the first game of the Rugby Championship tournament against Australia, appealed against the matches considered for his four-match ban and came out victorious.
In the initial hearing, the matches New Zealand play against Counties Manukau and Taranaki on 11 August which constitutes 40 minutes each was not counted in the list of suspended games but the recent independent appeal panel overturned the decision and declared that the matches will be a part of the four-match ban, thereby effectively allowing the 31-year-old to return to action in the following week.
"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."
The governing body also issued another statement responding to the ruling and insisted that it will seek clarity from the independent appeal panel on why the decision was overturned.
"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 is already a part of the 34-man training squad announced by New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen.