Australian rugby identities reacted with a mixture of awe and fear when
the name Sonny Bill Williams was read out on Sunday, with one notable
exception – Robbie Deans is not particularly struck by the All Blacks’
potential new star.
Williams might be playing in Deans’ home town and
for his old province, but it was as if the 25-year-old did not exist
when the Wallabies coach was asked for his thoughts on the league
convert’s rapid rise to All Black selection for an end of year tour that
starts with the final Bledisloe Cup Test in Hong Kong on October 30.
wouldn’t have any, you’re talking to the wrong bloke,” said Deans, who
steadfastly refused to offer his assessment of one of the code’s most
talked about players.
But did he at least expect Williams to debut against the Wallabies at Hong Kong Stadium?
they pick they intend to use at some point. I’ve got no idea mate, it
doesn’t concern me,” said Deans after the Wallabies squad reassembled on
the training paddock.
While Deans wouldn’t be drawn on the
wisdom of coaching nemesis Graham Henry promoting the marketable
Williams after just seven provincial games, he is clearly in the
Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones was convinced
Williams was an All Black-in-waiting since announcing his move from
France to New Zealand in June.
“Anyone who has seen him play
league and then saw him play union for Toulon and now for Canterbury in
New Zealand could see he was going to be a pretty reasonable union
player,” Jones said.
“I think they have done the right thing picking him… it will bring him on even quicker.”
coach Ewen McKenzie also appreciated the logic in including Williams in
the 30-man squad for the Bledisloe and subsequent assault on the Grand
Slam, but doubted the Wallabies would see much of the off-loading
midfielder in Hong Kong.
“Graham Henry will want to keep the foot
on the throat of the Wallabies. He’ll go with known quantities and not
be too charitable. Sonny Bill will get a shot in Europe,” McKenzie said,
before lauding Williams’ transition from league.
“He’s a big
ball-carrier who can bend the defence and offload like he does – he’s a
handful. You’ll have to be tackling him and anyone around him.”
responsibility could fall to Adam Ashley-Cooper if Williams is named in
the match-day 22 for the fourth trans-Tasman clash of the year.
And the Wallabies centre acknowledges containing Williams would not be easy.
“He’s a fantastic athlete, he’s massive, a big presence,” he said.
“There was never any doubt he would make their squad. He’s got all the skills to mix it with the best.
has great offloading skills. He suits the style of the Kiwi backline.
I’m sure he’ll fit in nicely. With the blokes around him, he’s going to
do well,” Ashley-Cooper told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Wallabies second five-eighth Tim Horan took a different stance, hoping
Williams would be feature in Hong Kong because he would pose fewer
problems than established No 12 Ma’a Nonu.
“Nonu is just a
fantastic footballer. He is a big, strong guy, has good speed and
footwork and has the skills as well,” Horan said.
two-time World Cup winner, was not convinced Williams was playing in his
rightful position, saying the 108kg and 1.94m ball player was
better suited to blindside flanker.
“I believe he should be at No 6,” Horan told the Telegraph.
the time I saw him play for the Barbarians against the Wallabies (in
2009), I thought he’d be a stronger running forward and I’m not sure
anything I have seen since has changed that.”