This is the inspiring story of Sonny Bill Williams, an incredible and polyhedric athlete. Franz Vitulli has chosen 9 great moments in SBW career for us.
The early days
Sonny William “Sonny Bill” Williams (SBW from now on) was born in Auckland, the largest and most populous city in New Zealand. He grew up in the Auckland suburb of Mount Albert. While his father is Samoan, his mother is of European New Zealander lineage, including English, Scottish and Irish descent.
He hasn’t grown up in a wealthy family; in fact, one of the reasons why he wanted to pursue the professional rugby career was to get his mother a house.
As a child, he’s been described both as a skinny boy and as an incredibly gifted sports talent. During his school years he was proficient with 100m, high jump and cross country running, and when he was called to play football—whatever its variant was—he’d play with kids who were two or three years older than him.
He was 12 when he left athletics to dedicate himself to rugby. He chose Rugby League, which his mother introduced him to, despite his father being an accomplished player.
1. Not downunder.
It was the 27th of March 2011, at Twickenham. Crusaders vs Sharks was the first match in the history of Super Rugby that was being played in the Northern Hemisphere. Crusaders won 44–28, and the first half was a remarkable display of actions that couldn’t look human to the eyes of the typical English watcher. The rhythm was twice as fast, the South African forwards looked bigger than any European prop, and the running lines from Crusaders’ backs were of utmost brilliance and beyond.
The something happened at around 5’00” (.36” in the above video). Dan Carter passed the ball to SBW, who saw a small hole in the Sharks’ defence. SBW decided to take advantage of it. He run on an nearly-straight line, and while he covered quite a few metres, he got tackled. Nevertheless, he managed to pass the ball the Fruean, the outside centre. It was the offload, the pass that made SBW famous in the world of rugby—any code of rugby.
2. The 80m try
Many sports video on YouTube dated 2009 or before look like coming from another era. It’s maybe due to the aesthetic details of the kits (design, cut, etc.), or maybe the poor video resolution. If you want to see how a player who now is older than 30 was doing at the beginning of their career, you’ll probably end up watching an old video.
I chose this video of SBW’s early years because it shows a side of him that is not the first one that typically pops up to our mind: he’s fast, and he could totally wear the 11 or 14 jersey if needed.
3. Sonny Bill in Japan
Go to the minute 2:20. SBW gets the ball from a lineout and scores a try. Japanese rugby improved dramatically over the last few years, but when SBW signed with a Japanese side it was 2012; no one could expect Japan winning against South Africa three years later—but let’s be honest: wasn’t it unexpected on the day before too?
SBW was wearing the Panasonic Wild Knights n.12 jersey, and the hooker of his side threw the ball as far as he could. When something like that happens, it’s either a mistake or a display of trust. We don’t know how much SBW trusted his n.2, but we’re rather sure the hooker from Ōta’s side would have trust SBW with his dog’s life at the very least.
4. Try! Try! It’s a try! Erm…
It was 2013, and SBW had just come back to Rugby League after a club career in France, New Zealand, and Japan. Pile up also an international career with the All Blacks (with whom he won the 2011 Rugby World Cup) on top of this. How can one expect him not to be part of the Kiwi team?
SBW took part at the 2013 RLWC (The Rugby League World Cup). New Zealand was the defending champion, but lost in the final against Australia.
I chose this video because it reminds us that SBW is human just like us, and just like us he has to experience gravity, slippery grass and all the other weird stuff that happens to humans. SBW was going to score a nice try against Samoa, but he slipped while attempting to score, and put his foot over the dead ball line.
5. His Sevens debut try
SBW made his Rugby 7 debut in 2016. His first try was set up by his team mate wearing the #9 jersey, but what’s remarkable is that it was literally the first time SBW had touched a rugby ball during a Sevens match. As he chats with a journalist after the match, the Imperial March from Star Wars is playing into Wellington’s Cake Tin, the stadium that—thanks to its round shape—kind of reminds of the Death Star, as if they wanted to celebrate a new leader for the Empire.
Back off, Kylo Ren.
6. Honey, my jersey got ripped off
New Zealand vs Tonga, first match of RWC 2011, was a tough match. At the end All Blacks won, but Tongans weren’t really going easy on their tackles, and SBW’s jersey—despite the fabric being special, at least so Adidas said—got teared apart during an action.
When he took his shirt off the crowd went bananas.
7. A gold medal isn’t just a physical object
When a kid managed to reach his hero SBW while he was celebrating his second World Cup, SBW gave him his gold medal. Media analysed SBW’s gesture by many angles: some said he’d been generous, others reported his attention seeking behaviour.
As a fan of Stoic philosophy, I like to think he got rid of his gold medal as it’s not a fair representation of his victory. Taking part of that whole experience was the real representation of that in fact, as well as the contribution of creating that legendary team, and so was the sacrifice of the kid who broke a rule to meet the new world champions.
8. SBW and boxing
Think that three rugby codes are enough? Then think again. SBW has been a competitive boxeur too: he fought in seven matches, which he won all (three by KO).
Although my boxing knowledge is fairly limited, I can appreciate the low-ish level of boxing that is being displayed in the above video. But honestly—who cares? SBW has often declared that boxing made him a better person, improved his self-confidence, and was a good training during rugby off-season.
9. SBW, Twitter, and the Olympics
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) August 6, 2016
Rugby sevens is making its Olympic debut in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. SBW can only boost the awareness around the sport, which needs to cement its position as an Olympic sport.
SBW’s presence almost resembles the same importance of the Originals, the first New Zealand national rugby union team to tour outside Australasia. Knowing that SBW and Usain Bolt are chatting about rugby, while other rugby players are focusing solely on Sevens, can only get a better perception of rugby as a sport across the Olympic setting.
While SBW still wants to be decisive on the pitch, his media presence tells us he’s aware that his role as one of the few internationally-acclaimed rugby players at the Olympics isn’t less crucial.