Rugby: Untouchable SBW hard to handle

New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams, center, is tackled by Scotland's Kelly Brown, right, and...
New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams, center, is tackled by Scotland's Kelly Brown, right, and Richie Vernon, left, during the international rugby match at Murrayfield, Edinburgh,. Photo by AP.
Graham Henry and his coaching cohorts now share a dilemma with their counterparts for the remainder of the All Blacks Grand Slam rugby tour - devising a strategy to handle Sonny Bill Williams.

Those three names - and the phrase "offload" - were practically on everyone's lips in the aftermath of New Zealand's 49-3 swamping of the Scots at Murrayfield last night, an All Black master class that suggested Williams could eventually exert a Jonah Lomu-esque influence on the international game.

Just two games into his test career, the 25-year-old already has opposing coaches reaching for the superlatives when pondering his future impact on the code.

After witnessing man-of-the-match Williams orchestrate two of the All Blacks seven converted with audacious offloads that already seem routine, Scotland head coach Andy Robinson sounded in awe of the new midfield maestro.

"He's got everything, hasn't he? He's fantastic for the sport of rugby union, just not for a defensive coach or an opponent trying to mark him," Robinson said.

Williams made his test debut at Twickenham last weekend and soon made a favourable impression for a one-handed release in the build-up to Hosea Gear's maiden test try.

Nine minutes into what Scotland forlornly hoped would prove a continuation of their resurgence after a historic series win in Argentina five months ago, Gear was grateful to Williams again when he powered through the defensive line and flicked a no-look pass the wing was wise to anticipate.

Record-equalling fullback Mils Muliaina also profited from Williams' sleight of hand in the 48th minute. 
While Williams' other sly moves to keep the ball alive did not lead directly to tries, conventional passing assisted Gear's second while his running lines from second five-eighth frequently had the Scots standoffish in defence.

Scotland, and to a lesser extent England, had no answer to Williams's innate ability to pierce an opposing backline and, when halted, release the ball for an alert support player.

The question now for Henry and backs coach Wayne Smith is how to utilise Williams against Ireland and Wales.

Do they prolong his assimilation process in Dublin next weekend? Or do they revert to the Ma'a Nonu-Conrad Smith combination that would have been considered unbreakable until Williams signalled his World Cup ambitions by returning home from France in June.

Nonu and Smith, united for 26 tests since 2008, have been pivotal in nurturing Williams since his selection and in doing so appear to have inadvertently jeopardised their own careers.

Smith sat out the England test to indulge Williams' rare outing at centre; at Murrayfield Nonu was the only All Blacks reserve not needed as Scotland's demoralising 105-year wait to beat New Zealand featured another grim interlude.

Henry was noncommittal about his future plans for the All Blacks highest profile acquisition from rugby league but mirrored Robinson's enthusiasm for Williams' performance.

"He'll obviously be pretty pleased with the way he's playing," Henry dead panned.

"He's got an amazing ability to offload the ball in the tackle, I don't think I've seen any rugby player with that sort of skill in that situation before," he said, before predicting even greater heights for the 1.91-metre ball player.

"He's still getting comfortable playing at this level and with what we're trying to do.

"I still think there's a wee way to go there but I think he'll get more confident and even go to a higher standard in the future."

Captain Richie McCaw was also impressed with Williams' arrival to the All Black environment via Toulon and Canterbury.

"It's exciting to have a guy like that, he's a real threat and it's not always him just crashing the ball up, he can put guys away outside too."

Muliaina admitted Williams was unique in terms of backs he had shared his 92 test caps with - an All Black record he jointly holds with McCaw and Sean Fitzpatrick.

"Just watching it (offloads) on TV when he doing it in league, you wondered if he could transfer that into rugby," Muliaina said.

"He must have practised it a lot because he can certainly pull it off. A few times at training you think he's gone to deck and suddenly the ball pops out of nowhere."



Add a Comment