Sonny Bill Williams taste victory on Wellington debut

Singapore fans will be hoping for more spectacular moments from World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams when he apears at the iconic National Stadium for the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens this April.

The All Blacks superstar tasted victory in his sevens debut as New Zealand won the Wellington leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament on Sunday and rugby fans around the world are still raving about the sensational YouTube video of the 30-year-old taking out three opponents before a no-look-pass to Joe Webber to score the winning try against South Africa (19-14) in Saturday’s group match.

In Sunday’s final, New Zealand had to come from behind yet again to beat the South Africans 24-21 to win the third leg of the HSBC World Rugby Seven Series. The Series now moves to Sydney, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Hong Kong, before its much anticipated stopover in Singapore on April 16-17.

Williams, one of the world’s finest rugby league players and New Zealand’s champion heavyweight boxer, was switching codes from 15s and played as a forward in his first Sevens tournament for New Zealand. The debut of All Blacks back Williams was always going to be the talking point and he didn’t disappoint, scoring with his only touch off the bench in their 38-7 win over Russia in Saturday’s group stage.

Overall, he had a mixed weekend with errors in the two matches against South Africa, along with that moment of offload magic on Saturday.

“It was a massive learning experience for myself and I’m just grateful to be playing for such a talented side,” said Williams. “The boys had to push themelves to their limits, to places you don’t really want to go. I’m just a bit rusty in some areas. Sevens is very fast and tough on the lungs, but I’m enjoying it and I know I got many things to work on.”

On his Twitter account which has 567,000 followers, he tweeted: “Man I got the Sevens bug, just got to keep playing and learning. Still a lot to learn in this game and great to be learning off some of the best.”

New Zealand coach Sir Gordon Tietjens, who has won the Singapore leg of the World Sevens Series in 2002 and 2004 at the old National Stadium, expressed his delight with the debutante: “I’m really pleased with Sonny, he has never played the game. He’s disappointed in a couple of things that he did but the good thing about Sonny is that he can put that behind him and just look to the next job. That’s why he’s so good. He’s a perfectionist and he’ll get it right.”

Williams is seeking selection for the Olympics sevens in Rio de Janeiro along with his sister Nail, who hopes to be picked for the New Zealand women’s squad. The 2016 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is billed as Road to Rio where Sevens rugby makes its historic debut as a medal sport.

A teammate who took a giant step towards securing a place in the New Zealand Olympics squad is 20-year-old Akira Ioane, who was named HSBC Player of the Tournament in Wellington.

From the opening match against Russia to the final versus South Africa, young Akira was unstoppable. Whether bumping out of tackles, fending defenders or breaking the line, Akira was a constant threat with ball in hand. On defence, Akira pulled off the try-saver of the tournament when he reeled in South Africa speedster Seabelo Senatla in the final.

The 111 kilogram speedster made his debut in 2014 at the same tournament but spent last season playing 15s rugby. He proved he had no problems changing codes, scoring five tries over the weekend and it was his crucial tackle in the final that allowed New Zealand to come from behind to beat South Africa.

“It was about having pride in that jersey and putting mana into it. It was about not giving up,” said Akira, whose brother Rieko Ioane is also in the All Blacks Sevens squad.

Coach Tietjens heaped praise on the whole squad following the remarkable win in Wellington but
had special recognition for Akira.

“I’ve always said in Sevens rugby if you got a good bench with players who can provide impact and players with the X factor, you will come away with a good result,” he said. “It nearly got away from us, but defence wins tournaments. We had that big tackle which was the turning point. He (Akira) is a pretty special footballer. He can break the line open. He is one of those players who has real x-factor – he has a huge future in the game. He has put a huge step forward to being in that 10 for Rio.”