Japanese Rugby
Sonny Bill feeling the pressure to perform
ESPN Staff
September 27, 2012
The Wild Knights' Sonny Bill Williams stretches the Shining Arcs' defence, Panasonic Wild Knights vNTT Communications Shining Arcs, Tsukisamu Rugby Stadium, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, September 9, 2012
Sonny Bill Williams will head to Australia's National Rugby League after his lucrative short stint in Japan with the Wild Knights © Getty Images

Sonny Bill Williams has revealed his frustration at not being able to deliver on the big-money deal that took him to Japan.

The former All Blacks international, who quit New Zealand last month in favour of a 12-game deal with the Top League side the Panasonic Wild Knights worth a reported NZ$1.7m (£867,500), scored his first try for the team last weekend but they still lost 32-22 to the Toshiba Brave Lupus.

It was the Wild Knights second defeat in their four outings this season and they are currently fifth in the 14-team competition. "I just felt really disappointed and frustrated," Williams told the Kyodo news agency. "I just want to pay back my team-mates and the Panasonic supporters. They have shown a lot of faith in me and a lot of love. And when we lose I feel the weight on my shoulders."

Williams, who is poised to return to Australia's National Rugby League competition with the Sydney Roosters next year, also admitted it was taking some time for him to find his feet. "I was a bit frustrated by some of the calls. But that's how the game is played here," he said. "You've got to bite the bullet and move on and concentrate on doing something else better. If you get into a mindset of frustration, it can have a snowball effect."

More alarming than Williams' struggles to find his best form on the field is his failure to have an impact off it. AFP reports only 2,200 fans turned up for his debut earlier this month and just 2,608 watched his first game in Tokyo. Saturday's clash drew healthier figure of 12,300 but that was still about half the number who watched Japan's U20 Women's World Cup football match with South Korea last month.

Attendances at all Top League games, which are not currently televised, are reportedly down for the third year running with the Japan Rugby Football Union appearing to be losing the battle to generate interest in the sport ahead of staging the World Cup in 2019.

However, national coach Eddie Jones is convinced Williams will boost the growth of the sport in the long run. "Sonny Bill Williams will attract extra spectators to Top League games this year as he brings a unique set of skills and mana (passion) to the game," Jones said. "The quality of rugby is always important in attracting spectators and Sonny is world class."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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