All Blacks rugby coach Graham Henry has advised Sonny Bill Williams to return to New Zealand this year to stake his claim for a World Cup spot.
Henry said he’d spoken at length to the gifted former Kiwis’ league international earlier this year as he mulls over his options while playing for French club Toulon. Williams comes off contract next month.
“I’ve talked to Sonny Bill Williams, and enjoyed talking to him. I thought he made a lot of sense,” Henry said on Friday.
“He’s got a personal decision to make, whether he comes back and plays provincial rugby then tries to get a Super rugby contract, then he’ll have to be judged on his ability and whether he’s good enough for the World Cup.
“That’s a major decision for him, and I’ve encouraged him to do that. Whether he’s in a position to do that, I’m not sure.”
Williams’ Toulon coach and mentor, former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, is returning as player-coach for Counties-Manukau later this year and that would be an undoubted carrot.
But the former NRL premiership-winning Bulldogs star would also take a pay cut if he turned his back on offers from Britain and France, and possibly NRL clubs, to return home to chase a Super 14 contract.
“I’ve spoken to Tana about him as well. Sonny Bill knows we’d be pleased if he came home and played at the levels below to see if he’s good enough to play at the levels above,” Henry said.
Henry felt Williams’ best position in rugby was “probably in the centres”.
Otherwise, Henry is resigned to having no other players return from overseas contracts to chase World Cup spots after Carl Hayman and Aaron Mauger both opted to remain in Europe.
Newcastle prop Hayman was high on the All Blacks coaches’ wish list and he appeared poised to return to New Zealand before confirming a lucrative deal with Toulon.
Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming has learned the hard way that the All Blacks can do no wrong even when not playing rugby. Playing in the T20 Black Clash between a Black Caps’ XI and the world’s best rugby team, 15-game emerging star Jordie Barrett, younger brother of Beauden, castled Fleming with a searing […]