With the naming of the All Blacks team to meet Australia in the third Bledisloe Cup test, one player can strike up a new achievement. Sonny Bill Williams, the often celebrated and – somewhat – derided player and individual, will earn his 50th cap on Saturday.
You might think ‘only 50 tests?’ and you would be correct. Since the player’s debut in 2010, he has slowly built up a catalog of tests. Not near the volume of Sam Whitelock or Kieran Read, but at a steady rate with the highest of highs, and ……several low troughs.
Though this match is the third in the classic trans-Tasman battle, it is one war that the New Zealand team has dominated. They have retained the Cup, claimed another Rugby Championship and seem more determined to have a ‘dry rehearsal’ of the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama….than to challenge Australia.
Sonny Bill Williams reaches milestone in Third Bledisloe Cup Test
With Jack Goodhue invalid due to an ongoing case of the mumps, Sonny Bill (Williams) takes up his post yet again in the center of the backline. The number 12 jersey is where he has become accomplished. Many say more than accomplished, with the support of Beauden Barrett and in combination with Ryan Crotty.
This selection is not a ‘last choice’. It has been the first-pick aside from Goodhue, and more often Anton Lienert-Brown. Even with Ngani Laumape, the choice of Sonny Bill Williams gives selectors options that few International players can provide. So when facing an Australian side who have more to win, than to lose, he is seen as a solid pillar that the side require.
Maybe in 12 months time, on the same field, he could be used as an impact. Even better, a squad member that can challenge his teammates to reach high standards, as he has done over his time wearing all black.
The New Zealand side chosen for this test may well not mirror that of 12 months later, yet though it is a quality lineup;
The match is still to be competed for, of course. As this reported can atone, a ‘foregone conclusion’ is when the Wallabies feel most confident. As they did in Brisbane last year, where an All Blacks side affected by injury was unable to combat a spirited Australia. They played with less inhibitions, were thought of as less than capable and New Zealand fell to an Aussie side with more spirit.
Fans will not easily accept another result like that, this Saturday.
Australia v New Zealand – Saturday 3:00pm (JPN) Nissan Stadium
In Tokyo at 3pm local time – 7:00pm NZ time – it is the first run-out on the field of Nissan Stadium. One that is surely a real test for the All Blacks. True, that has been said previously.
In 2018 thete was a test where they failed in Wellington – when taking South Africa too lightly. This encounter has an uneasy balance to it, one test they cannot fail in that same way.
Saturday is the first International fixture of five consecutive test match weekends for the side as well. And for a player like Sonny Bill Williams; who played competitive rugby league, rugby union and has boxed professionally, his experiences will support a will to perform, and concentrate over an extended period – not a one-off game.
Because like other storied All Blacks [Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith] his personal winning record is well over 85%. A true professional, it means that his confidence in himself and in the team is undaunted. Like that of the selectors in him.
50 caps might not see him stand as a centurion like McCaw, yet as the majority of All Blacks who have all contributed a considerable part of their career will agree, every gsme wearing the Silver Fern is recognition by their peers; that means so much more.
Sonny Bill is well respected by the current group. His faith and family keep him grounded, plus when on the field he can always produce that ‘miracle offload’ as he did in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
While awards, trophies and adulation may follow, it is the respect of teammates that is more primary for him. If the team around Sonny Bill can aim for the same levels, than under the sunshine in Yokahama, they could enjoy another successful Bledisloe Cup match.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images