New Zealand Rugby
Sonny Bill fulfils All Blacks dream
October 17, 2010
Sonny Bill Williams poses following his All Blacks call-up, New Zealand squad announcement, Auckland, New Zealand, October 17, 2010
Sonny Bill Williams is all smiles following his call-up to the latest New Zealand squad © Getty Images

For once Sonny Bill Williams wasn't really a headline grabber - it would only have constituted news had his name not been included in the All Blacks tour party for the Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup Test and subsequent Grand Slam tour of the UK and Ireland.

He might only have played seven provincial rugby matches in New Zealand but realistically the 25-year-old ultra-marketable midfielder was on Graham Henry's wish list on June 10 - the night Williams confirmed he was turning down a $6 million deal to stay in Toulon in favour of a bid to make the World Cup squad via Canterbury and the Crusaders.

From the moment he made a cameo appearance for Wayne Smith's club Belfast hours before the Tri-Nations/Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies in Christchurch on August 7 the SBW phenomenon has grown exponentially. And not without justification was he named in the 30-man tour party.

Canterbury coach Rob Penney brought Williams into the defending champion's line-up gradually, a process complicated by injury niggles - not that it stopped the strapping centre embarking on an ill-advised skiing trip with a tight hamstring. That indiscretion has been Williams' only blemish and one soon excused once he made his debut off the bench against Bay of Plenty on September 3.

Starts against Northland and Taranaki followed, only the latter managed to cast him in a dubious light after he was involved in the concession of two tries. Williams' penance was demotion to the bench when Wellington came to Christchurch for a contest that doubled an earthquake relief match - his No 22 jersey easily fetched the highest price at auction.

Typically it was his physicality and finishing skills that confirmed Canterbury's victory. He then terrorised Otago at Carisbrook before being pivotal in ending Southland's Ranfurly Shield reign by setting up the challenger's first try in Invercargill before sparking a 100-metre counter attack when the Stags still had hope of forcing a draw.

Williams has already added ownership of New Zealand rugby's oldest trophy to an envious resume as a professional footballer which includes an NRL premiership with the Bulldogs, seven caps for the Kiwis .... even a 2 and 0 record as a professional boxer.

When announcing his return home Williams joked his parents could not afford an All Black strip when he was a kid growing up in Auckland; friend and mentor Tana Umaga presented him with the last jersey of his illustrious career while the pair were team-mates at Toulon. In the end all it took Williams to obtain his own was a willingness to take a pay cut and trade the south of France for the South Island.

He will not bust into the optimum line-up automatically, Ma'a Nonu puts paid to that notion. But there seems little doubt it has been money well spent by the NZRU -- and sacrificed by Williams - as his career ticks off another coveted milestone.

Henry confirmed the tour would be used to progress Williams' rugby education. "He will obviously learn on this tour and improve," said the coach, who admitted Williams had clearly done his homework in some respects.

"He's been selected on form, he's played very well for Canterbury. He has the ability to be a game breaker and obviously a huge strength is his ability to offload in the tackle."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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