Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams has done things his way and that has made him a source of debate and at times derision.
The latter because not everyone – certainly not traditionalists – have liked or understood his career approach.
Williams came to New Zealand in 2010 after time in league and a stint in France playing rugby. No one was quite sure what he would bring in terms of ability, beyond the fact he was obviously a stunning athlete.
As it turned out, his key influences have been in three distinct areas. The first and perhaps most obvious influence has been in encouraging rugby players to o oad whenever they can.
It was part of the game before he arrived, just no one did it quite as often or as well as he did. That was his skill – the ability to shoot one of his giant arms out of contact and get the ball away.
Williams was able to do it almost every time he had the ball and the continuity that o ered made an enormous di erence to the ability of teams he was in to attack.
The more he did it, the more his teammates and opponents began to see it as a must-have skill and in the seven years since Williams first played in New Zealand, the number of o oads per game has almost trebled.
“He’s di erent to anything we’ve ever seen,” All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith once enthused. “It’s not a usual rugby union style. It’s interesting to people and it’s good for our team. I haven’t seen anyone like him. It’s just so di erent a skill set to what we’ve seen before. We’ve seen the odd guy o oad, he does it consistently.”
The second area that Williams has influenced is career planning. He has shown that it is okay to have a variety of ambitions and that no one need commit themselves to one team and one code for the duration of their career.
If there was a little bit of unwanted tradition left in New Zealand rugby in recent years it came in the form of administrative expectation that players would continue to be loyal.
There was this unspoken belief that the right thing to do was to play in New Zealand right to the death of a career and anyone who went in a di erent direction was lacking moral fibre.
Williams has perhaps broken down barriers on that front and shown that it is possible to flit between codes, dabble in boxing and remain at the pinnacle of all.
His other great influence has been within the teams he has played for. Williams is one of the most dedicated and advanced trainers on the planet. His attention to detail is phenomenal and he micro manages his body in a way few rugby players ever have.
As a devout Muslim he uses his faith as a path to a more wholesome life, where he eats incredibly well, trains hard and researches endless ways to improve his mental and physical wellbeing.
He has invested in all sorts of training equipment, has tried the unusual practice of cupping and generally has an awareness of all sorts of alternative therapies and rehabilitation techniques.
But above all else, he appears not to take life overly seriously and has a relaxed approach to all that he does.
“He’s the ultimate professional,” says veteran wing Israel Dagg. “He’s always got these new tools and is bringing in these new machines. If you watch him he’s always stretching and looking after his body. He doesn’t even lift tonnes of weights, he’s just naturally gifted and strong. He looks after his recovery, food, nutrition, flexibility is huge for him – all that stu is 100 per cent important.”
ATTENTION TO DETAIL SBW is a micro manager of his own body.