Williams makes home union debut

Reuters - Sat, 07 Aug 09:54:00 2010

The crowds were packed three-deep along the touchlines of Christchurch's Sheldon Park, while some watched from worn-out sofas or benches provided by an enterprising local school, who had charged to sit on them.

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It's not often a low-key match will attract such an audience, including people climbing trees around the ground just to catch a glimpse, but those attending were drawn by the lure of witnessing Sonny Boy Williams's New Zealand rugby debut.

The 25-year-old inside centre has become the most talked about player in New Zealand rugby after switching codes to take his first tentative steps to what many believe will be an All Blacks debut later this year.

Such was the furore surrounding him, the local newspaper devoted Saturday's front page to an interview with the student marking Williams and not to the 'other' match taking place in the city, a Tri-Nations clash between New Zealand and Australia.

In 2008, Williams walked out on a five-year contract with the Canterbury Bulldogs in Australia's rugby league competition and spent two years playing for Toulon in France before deciding it was time to return home.

On Saturday, he did not disappoint in Belfast's 22-7 victory over Lincoln University in the Christchurch club competition.

Williams, who played for the first 50 minutes in front of around 3,000 spectators, including All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith, scored a try and impressed with his deft offloads in the tackle that created space for his outside backs.

Afterwards, however, he said the workout was a lot tougher than expected.

"The lungs were burning," he said with a grin when he described his 50-metre scamper for his try. "I think the other side saw it was me and let me go.

"I pulled up a little bit tight (before he was substituted), but it was good to knock 40-50 minutes out and to get a win. That's what it's all about (with) grassroots footy."

Williams, who turned down a reported multi-million dollar contract to re-sign with Toulon, returned to his homeland with the specific goal of making the All Blacks and playing at next year's World Cup on home soil.

He signed with the Canterbury union and Crusaders Super rugby franchise and after undergoing minor knee surgery around six weeks ago, Saturday's match was his first competitive game in "about three months".

"It was about getting that touch out there," he said.

"I was a bit off with my defence trying to shoot out there but hopefully it can be a snowball effect where I start off and slowly progress.

"I have to force my way in there (the Canterbury provincial rugby team). It's the main reason why I came down here.

"If I can make that Canterbury team then that will go a long way to pursuing my dream (of making the All Blacks)."


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