Rugby: Chiefs get first taste of Sonny Bill mania

By Dylan Cleaver

Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / APN
Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / APN

The Chiefs got their first taste of Sonny Bill mania this week and can expect more of the same in Taupo as Williams gets his first run in the franchise's colours tonight.

Williams has been named to start at second five-eighths in a Chiefs XV that captain Craig Clarke acknowledged was a shadow side of that expected, injuries permitting, to start against the Highlanders in Hamilton next week.

There was a suggestion that a hamstring strain suffered while training for his heavyweight bout against Clarence Tillman was continuing to trouble Williams, but his selection would appear to dispel that fear.

"Sonny has been training and running freely with no injuries and is looking forward to playing [tonight]," said coach Dave Rennie.

The Chiefs travelled to Taupo via Te Kuiti, where they held a session at the famous Waitete Rugby Club.

More than 1000 people turned up and most were there to see the potentially dynamic centre pairing of Richard Kahui and Williams, Clarke said.

"Sonny and Kahui got swamped."

Quite what two of the pillars of New Zealand rugby, Colin and Stan Meads, made of it all is hard to say. The Waitete old boys were there to watch and, magnanimous as they might be, it must be a source of amusement to them that a fringe All Black-cum-boxer can generate so much fervour.

The Chiefs are welcoming the attention after a couple of flat years.

"When he wasn't here there was a lot of hype around Sonny and we've been in Hamilton seeing the buildup around his boxing so we're well aware that [the attention] comes with the man," Clarke said.

Clarke made his Super rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2006, had a spell at the Hurricanes and is now part of the furniture in Hamilton, where he will start his fourth season for the province.

He said the change of coaching regime, which has seen Rennie take over as head coach joined by former All Black assistant Wayne Smith, had given him renewed impetus.

"It's a fresh start ... There's a different mentality. We've got to prove ourselves again because we're not so comfortable with the new coaches. We're fighting for spots."

Southland's Robbie Robinson is on at fullback, a move which has seen Tim Nanai-Williams shift to the wing.

Owen Delany Park, Taupo, tonight, 6.35

Robbie Robinson
Lelia Masaga
Richard Kahui
Sonny Bill Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams
Aaron Cruden
Brendon Leonard
Fritz Lee
Tanerau Latimer
Sam Cane
Craig Clarke (c)
Mike Fitzgerald
Ben Afeaki
Mahonri Schwalger
Toby Smith

Andre Taylor
Cory Jane
Alapati Leiua
Charlie Ngatai
Richard Buckman
Beauden Barrett
Chris Smylie
Victor Vito (c)
Jack Lam
Faifili Levave
Jeremy Thrush
James Broadhurst
Ben May
Dane Coles
Reggie Goodes

Chiefs: Marcel Cummings-Toone, Sona Taumalolo, Shane Cleaver, Brodie Retallick, Scott Waldrom, Ronald Raaymakers, Andrew Horrell, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Declan O'Donnell, Jackson Willison, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

Hurricanes:Tristan Moran, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Motu Matu'u, Michael Bent, Jason Eaton, Mike Coman, Scott Fuglistaller, Chris Eaton, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Jayden Hayward, Tim Bateman.

- NZ Herald

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