So it is confirmed. Not since Ned Hughes and Karl Ifwersen, way back in 1921, has a former New Zealand Rugby League representative played for the All Blacks.
Barring an untimely injury (not entirely out of the realms of possibility for the former Bulldogs Second-Rower) Sonny Bill Williams will take to the hallowed turf of the old Cabbage Patch that is Twickenham. The spiritual home of English rugby.
He will play at Centre, a vital position requiring a combination of art and science. A position that has been graced by many legends of All Black Rugby; Bert Cooke, Johnny Smith, Bruce Robertson, Frank Bunce and Tana Umaga to name but a few.
The ability to run or pass your wingers into space has always been the most prized attribute of an outstanding All Black centre, or any player for that matter, but especially so of the man who in modern times wears the number 13 on his back.
Williams has a Meads-like propensity to carry the ball in one hand and a Laidlaw-like propensity to release that ball to the exact spot he wishes it, coupled with his undoubted size, speed and strength, he makes an outstanding attacking weapon. This much has been proven in the ITM Cup.
However, one should balance the assessment of Williams’ attacking credentials in such a competition with the example of one S. Donald (Waikato) who by all accounts was also “carving it up” in the very same ITM Cup.
Johnny Smith and Bruce Robertson were glorious exponents of the attacking art and whilst Williams is not yet Raphael, he has his brushes and palette at the ready. Yet questions still remain over that other fundamental tenet of a great centre’s game – Defence.
Frank Bunce and Tana Umaga rank amongst the best practitioners of this sometimes brutal science. One aspect of Williams’ defence cannot be questioned.
The man can tackle.
But Jonah Lomu could tackle too – just ask Ben Tune. As former Sonny Bill Williams cheerleader, Phil Gould, commented during the recent Kangaroos v England test: “There’s a big difference between being a good tackler and a good defender… a big difference.”
It should be safe to assume that, since Williams’ selection as an All Black, the coaching staff would have been concentrating on teaching Williams the defensive systems that the All Blacks would look to employ.
This would be even more of a concern after the erratic defensive display in Hong Kong.
Yet, one would also have made the same assumption of Robbie Deans and the Wallaby coaching staff when a relatively inexperienced Timana Tahu took the field in similar circumstances in 2008.
Williams will not face a rampant Springbok midfield of Jean De Villiers and Adrian Jacobs on the high veldt at Ellis Park, such was the situation confronting Tahu. Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall look to be a far less intimidating examination of his credentials at test level, but it comes in the white-cold atmosphere of Twickenham all the same.
The Da Vinci of centres last pulled on the All Black Jersey, or a white one in Bert Cooke’s case in 1930; a centre who had attacking art and defensive science in abundance.
Ironically Cooke then played rugby league becoming a Kiwi representative in the process. Williams is the first in 89 years to do what he has done and nobody expects him to do what Cooke did 80 years ago either, but it would be nice to see some signs of it against England.