Known as much for his personality than for his incredible rugby skills, many know that for All Blacks center Sonny Bill Williams, preparing to play in his third Rugby World Cup is all about Pride and Passion.
One player who plays with his heart on his sleeve – for good or for bad – Sonny Bill (SBW) is a player who will be a threat to every opposition. And with his naming in the 31-man All Blacks RWC squad, it adds to the problems facing Pool B opponents.
A team that includes SBW, is a team that threatens. That sport may be rugby union, sevens, or rugby league. A champion in all those, including his reign as New Zealand Heavyweight boxing champion, Sonny Bill has developed an attitude of professionalism that is well respected. And it is that behaviour, the champion’s attitude, that gave the All Blacks selectors every confidence to name Sonny Bill Williams in his third RWC campaign.
That confidence has registered with the player too. In a radio interview with NZME, he spoke of the pride he felt; in a season where he has had to face many injuries and setbacks. “It’s been really tough, and I’ve had to show a lot of resilience. I’m just so proud.”
Pride and Passion; Sonny Bill Williams ready for third RWC
With his strong family values, and a faith that has been put to the test (after the Christchurch Terror Attacks), the passion that he has for the game is what outwardly drives the player. “I’m really excited to be here and now there’s a job to do and hopefully, that’s to create history.”
21: A multi-talented sportsman with maybe the best offload in the game, Sonny Bill Williams has played in every game of the winning 2011 and 2015 campaigns and is on the plane to Japan hoping to make it a threepeat in #RWC2019. #allblacks @SonnyBWilliams pic.twitter.com/AUC47iMpvO
— All Blacks (@allblacksrugby) August 29, 2019
God willing is what SBW may well have meant. As his faith and passion has grown, the outwardly confident stance of his Muslim faith, has been a strength that has seemingly altered the public persona of Sonny Bill Williams. Now a family man, he admitted to watching to the All Blacks team naming with family.
“I watched it with my family. There were a few tears, and it really just made it feel real – this thing that you strive for – has paid off”. Those tears were relief, as much as for the hard work and training that Williams is renowned for. He stated he emotion was “because of the magnitude of it. And after the year I’ve had.”
Knocked down in the Super Rugby season, requiring knee surgery, it is a credit to the player’s recuperative powers, that he could perform to the high-level that Sonny Bill did, in the 36-0 victory over Australia. An above par demonstration, that has earned SBW a third Rugby World Cup place.
Williams spoke of his own pleasure in his outing at Eden Park. “Against Australia, and in those big games, I thrive on those moments. I love those types of moments”. And while he appears to play to his best in the biggest occasions, the coaches also know that a side including SBW, is a stronger group.
SBW adds value to Team, and himself over Career
With such a long list of accomplishments, across several codes, the ‘SBW factor’ adds even more value in 2019, as it has in the past. The player has become a model sportsman – aside from the much-publicized should charge.
Even with that place unpopular in All Blacks history, SBW is one of the more popular players. A favourite with kids, but also for his support of the Muslim community during the Christchurch fatalities. The former Crusaders player was applauded for his stance, in the same way, that Muhammad Ali was both a sports star but also, a charismatic individual.
For Sonny Bill, the humble manner he now portrays has replaced a once cocky rugby league player who walked out on his million-dollar contract. That behavioral change is something that is a credit to his faith, as much as his sporting passion.
A factor in his selection, as he can add much more to the team culture with his attitude, positive behaviors, making for a relaxed and laughter-filled group. His versatility in both numbers 12 and 13 or wing cover, the ability to inject enthusiasm off the bench and at especially training, all assets that earned Sonny Bill Williams his third involvement in an RWC campaign.
And for good reason.
The once individual-highlight reel has now become provider. He pointed out that “if I can open up space elsewhere by attracting players [attention], then I’m doing my job”. That job will need to produce – as he was selected above top try-scorer Ngani Laumape. However, the selectors have shown faith in the senior player. Knowing the pride and passion that Sonny Bill shows in his game, as well as in his personal life, the sense is he will produce on the biggest occasions.
Third times a charm for Sonny Bill
Holding two RWC winners medals already – yes, even while he gave away his 2015 medal in a spontaneous moment, World Rugby did replace it. That set could be possibly added to, and it would take the SBW name into new realms.
He, alongside current skipper Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock were all young(er) men in 2011. In that home tournament, Read solidified his place as the premier number eight, Whitelock as a lock with a bright future, while SBW made his promise to return to the NRL a reality the next season. That didn’t endure him well with rugby union fans, but on his return and his performance in the Twickenham World Cup final was an exclamation mark on his value as an impact player.
From Premiership Grand Finals, to Super Rugby finals, it seems that the pinnacle events are where Sonny Bill feels most comfortable. Even if injuries have become a regular occurrence, the player seems to bounce back. His longevity is as much blockade to younger talent, as it is also inspiring.
SBW knows he is under threat. The challenge from the likes of Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue (see above) is putting pressure on his place, yet each time SBW reacts. He handles the internal squad pressures with maturity, and as a team-player, he can be both mentor and competitor.
He is a man now at peace. He respects what it takes to prepare for the occasion – something every one of his coaches and teammates agree on. SBW works hard.
And that is a KPI that he has led in All Black, and an element that secured his place in the 2019 RWC squad.
Nothing could be bigger than the expectations involved in a Rugby World Cup. Any elite sporting accomplishment needs influencing factors. Aside from coaching and management, it is the make-up of a team that can help fulfill objectives. And the conclusion in 2019 is that an All Blacks team is at it’s strongest, with a certain Sonny Bill Williams included.
Personality aside, if either breaking conventions in Sport or in religious faith, the pride and passion that Sonny Bill displays is only equaled by his on-field skillset. A talent who is now given a third chance to hold high the Webb Ellis Cup. If successful, he alongside Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock will be rewriting the history books.
And for Sonny Bill Williams, he has always seemed destined to a football player that will be remembered for both his on-field play, and for his Pride and Passion.
“Main photo credit”