New Zealand Rugby
Henry defends new All Black Sonny Bill
October 19, 2010
Graham Henry has defended Sonny Bill Williams © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has defended newly-recruited All Black Sonny Bill Williams - insisting that the former rugby league star is not a mercenary.
Williams turned down a lucrative second contract with Top 14 side Toulon in June in order to chase All Black selection, having angered the rugby league community with his 2008 ditching of the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The midfielder has been in fine form for Canterbury in recent weeks and made his first All Blacks squad on Monday - taking another step towards a Test jumper.
"Sonny Bill Williams came back on a relatively small contractual situation compared with what he could have got in Europe," Henry said. "He only got probably about 25% of what he could have got in Europe so I think it is the complete opposite of a mercenary. He has a dream of becoming an All Black and he is on the first step of that dream. He now has to play to a high standard to remain an All Black and he will be hoping to play in the Rugby World Cup next year.
"This is a one-off situation really, I can't remember a similar situation where it has happened. He has played a couple of years in France so he has had a wee bit of experience in rugby and has come back to fulfil his dream.
"I have the utmost respect for the guy. He is a very unselfish rugby player on the field and he has made a big impression in the Canterbury province and with the Canterbury teams and the players. So he is a very popular player and very unselfish, mercenary would be the last thing that I would say about him."
Henry also sought to play down expectations on Williams prior to the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup meeting with Australia on October 30 and subsequent Grand Slam tour attempt.
"I think we can get carried away here, the media are making a huge deal about Sonny Bill Williams and the All Blacks," he said. "I can understand that but I think we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. He is a young guy who has played a couple of years of rugby and has played well. His goal was to come back to New Zealand and make the All Blacks and he has done that. He hasn't played international rugby and he's got a lot to prove I think.
"Obviously he is a big man with an unusual physique to play in the backs. He is very strong and has the ability to offload in the contact situation, he might add an extra dimension there.
"He has been pretty sound for Canterbury but I am sure there are areas of his game that he will need to improve. There is a huge gap between provincial rugby and international rugby playing against the Wallabies. I'm sure there is a lot of areas in the game that he will need to sharpen up on to be a great international player."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.