Test Quality

'He’s a monster' - Sonny Bill Williams shows his All Black class against Lions

The Blues centre was in superb form against the tourists at Eden Park.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

WHILE STEVE HANSEN would have winced when he saw Ryan Crotty suffering a rib cartilage injury during the Crusaders’ win over the Highlanders last weekend, the All Blacks coach probably had a big smile on his face watching Sonny Bill Williams in action against the Lions on Wednesday night in Auckland.

Crotty had been a good bet to wear the All Blacks’ 12 shirt in the first Test against the Lions on 24 June – his form having been sublime for the Crusaders – but Blues centre Williams now looks almost certain to line out at inside centre for Hansen’s side.

Sonny Bill Williams celebrates at the final whistle Williams celebrates his first-half try. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Crotty may make it into the squad the All Blacks announce on Thursday, but he is a doubt for the opening Tests versus Warren Gatland’s side and Williams showed exactly what he can do in the Blues’ 22-16 win over the tourists.

The 31-year-old – who is currently fasting during Ramadan – delivered his best performance of the season, winning turnovers, carrying incisively and offloading sumptuously.

It was the performance of a Test player and Williams outshone Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in the Lions’ midfield, while others also struggled to get to grips with him.

“He’s a monster, isn’t he?” said Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb. “Everyone knows what he can do – he got them over the gainline and he’s got that class about him. We know he’s going to be a threat in a couple of weeks’ time, so it was good to play against him now.

“He’s special, he’s an athlete, he’s world-class and a big-game player. He showed a couple of glimpses today of what he can do. He’s been out with injury, but he’s coming back into a bit of form now. We need to be on our money to stop him in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Williams appears to have his knee injury out of the system by now and he is going to be a huge threat to the Lions in the Test series if Hansen opts for his physically imposing presence at 12.

Sonny Bill Williams offloads to Ihaia West to set up the winning try Williams offloads to Ihaia West for the winning try. Photosport / Peter Meecham/INPHO Photosport / Peter Meecham/INPHO / Peter Meecham/INPHO

His Blues coach, former All Blacks centre Tana Umaga, reckons the All Blacks boss will have been impressed by what he saw.

“Sonny Bill is obviously still coming back from injury, he’s had a stop-start season for us,” said Umaga after his team’s win in Eden Park.

“We really wanted him to go 80 minutes to show what he can bring, every week he’s gotten better and better and we saw again it was a step up – it shows the hunger he’s got at the top level.

“It’s got to be pleasing, it’s good for us, but it has got to be pleasing for the All Blacks.”

Williams’ offloading thirst is shared by many of his Blues team-mates, even if he is the leader in this area. Steven Luatua did a decent impression of SBW in the build-up to Ihaia West’s winning try, however.

Williams himself followed that effort up with a one-handed offload directly to West for the score, and Gatland believes the Lions will have to adapt their defence for players like the Blues centre.

Sonny Bill Williams celebrates winning Williams is likely to play against the Lions again later this month. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

“We need to look back at the try and how we went low in the tackles, so we need to make sure we go higher in those tackles to try and prevent the players getting the ball away in the offload situation,” said the Lions head coach.

Going in high on Williams is no guarantee, though, and only minutes later Webb pointed out that doing so could be a recipe for disaster in a different way.

“Maybe if you do [go high], he might sit you down and bounce you,” said the Ospreys halfback.

So, what’s the real solution?

“Maybe get three or four people to tackle him.”

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