Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Williams the danger man for Crusaders

Speculation on the sporting future of the Chiefs' Sonny Bill Williams will be rife during tonight's match, which sees him taking on his former team, the Crusaders. Picture / Getty Images.
Speculation on the sporting future of the Chiefs' Sonny Bill Williams will be rife during tonight's match, which sees him taking on his former team, the Crusaders. Picture / Getty Images.

Conjecture about Sonny Bill Williams' future continues while the man himself will be a focal point of Super 15 inquiries tonight between the Chiefs and Crusaders.

The second five-eighths' game has gone up a notch this season as he shifted his talents north and took up permanent duties under the stewardship of Dave Rennie and former All Blacks assistant Wayne Smith.

Williams completed the dangerous backline triangle with Aaron Cruden and Richard Kahui and even with the latter out of action because of further shoulder surgery, Williams has remained a linchpin in the Chiefs backline. His former Super 15 boss is impressed.

Todd Blackadder thinks his one-season midfield back has made great advances this year as his form delivered him three more test starts against Ireland.

The Crusaders coach knows his men have to quell Williams' attacking thrust to shut down a substantial part of the Chiefs' clout, but he also knows they cannot afford to let their concentration shift away from other dangerous colleagues.

"We have got to make sure we are not bees to a honey pot and overcommit to defending him," Blackadder said.

"There is quality all around Sonny Bill and he is someone who seems to be able to create time and space for them. He is a far better player than he was last year and it's good to see him do well.

"He was fantastic for us last season, I take my hat off to him but the boxing probably hurt him and hurt us a little."

Like many, Blackadder had enjoyed Williams' growing range of rugby skills and acumen such as his tactical kicking and offloading ability.

He and Cruden were a silky duo who would bring all sorts of challenges for the Crusaders who had Daniel Carter and Andy Ellis to dictate the rhythm of their backline. While Kahui was injured, the backline combinations established by Cruden and Williams remained strong threads throughout the Chiefs setup.

"I know how hard Sonny Bill works at his game and clearly he has found some good mates at the Chiefs and it is a credit to their management that they have wrung the best out of him."

Blackadder did not know where Williams would play his professional sport next year but if he left rugby, he would take a great deal of X Factor and belief away from the Chiefs.

"I think it would be good if he stayed, but life is about choices and there will always be other rugby players.

"There were a few things we couldn't do for Sonny but he has been playing well this year and our guys have got a very big challenge to make sure they contain him."

Living and working in Christchurch for anyone new to the area was awkward and Williams might have blossomed with the different rugby culture at the Chiefs, Blackadder said.

Another who left the area is lock Brodie Retallick, whose journeying via Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty has brought him to the Chiefs and combat with fellow test rookie Luke Romano and seasoned All Black lock Sam Whitelock tonight.

Retallick's ability to find space or operate as a lineout decoy will be one of the crucial subplots in a match speckled with duels like Richie McCaw battling Sam Cane, Ben Tameifuna propping against Ben Franks or Tawera Kerr-Barlow laying down markers against Andy Ellis.

- NZ Herald

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