New Zealand Rugby
SBW kicks off All Blacks bid with try
August 7, 2010
Sonny Bill Williams attracted plenty of starry-eyed Lincoln University defenders © Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams packed out Belfast's Sheldon Park as he launched his bid for an All Blacks jersey with a try in the lowly reaches of Canterbury club rugby.
New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith was on hand to see Belfast beat Lincoln University 22-7 but the result played second fiddle to the appearance of former rugby league star Williams who was playing his long-await first game in New Zealand since undergoing minor knee surgery six weeks ago.
A crowd of about 3000 circled the field three or four deep, while children sat in tree branches to get a glimpse of the man who turned down a massive offer from French club Toulon to pursue a childhood dream to represent New Zealand.
Half of the audience dispersed when Williams left the action after 50 minutes favouring a hamstring, moments after he scored a solo try from 60m out when he toed a loose ball, regathered and outpaced the cover defence. The win pleased the strapping 25-year-old, who stood a head taller than any other player, as much as his own performance.
"The body was good. The hamstring got a little bit tight but it was good to knock 40-50 minutes out and get a win with the boys," he told a phalanx of New Zealand and Australian reporters. "This is what grass roots footy is about and thankfully the boys took to me really well and I've enjoyed my time with them.
"My defence was a bit off, trying to shoot out there a couple of times. Hopefully I can be like a snowball effect, start off there and then gradually progress."
Williams steered clear of physical exchanges, not making a break aside from his try. He distributed neatly - including seven offloads in the tackle, mostly using his trademark backhand flick. Lincoln players preferred to keep away from Williams' defensive radar. He made just five tackles, featuring one clattering hit on fullback Rowan McKenzie.
"It was unbelievable. I was a bit tired at halftime but I knew I wanted to give the people their money's worth, I really enjoyed it," he said. "It's good to know that people still like me. Especially down this way, rugby league's not really that big. The kids saying 'Sonny Bill, you're cool', that means a lot."
It remains to be seen whether the hamstring niggle rules him out of contention for a first appearance for Canterbury next weekend. Williams was taking nothing for granted, knowing the two-time national provincial defending champions wouldn't gift jerseys to anyone.
"I've got to force my way in there somehow. That's the reason I came down here, because I know it's a big challenge," he said. "If I can make that team, it goes a long way to pursuing my dreams."
Williams' opposite Sean Walters was relieved to come through unscathed, the Lincoln University No.12 seeing glimpses of Williams' potential brilliance.
"He did pretty good for a guy who hasn't played rugby in the last two months or so," he said. "But he's pretty handy. He's a good offloader, pretty strong, pretty fast, good player."
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