Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Sonny Bill pumped for farewell

Sonny Bill Williams in action against Australia last night. Photo /  Richard Robinson
Sonny Bill Williams in action against Australia last night. Photo / Richard Robinson

Did the Wallabies really believe they could win last night?

Had they sorted out the issues which plagued them in Sydney and have inhibited all their predecessors at Eden Park going way back to 1986?

They certainly started with some belief, some accuracy and some venom.

But as the game went through the first quarter scoreless, the gremlins started to inhabit the Wallaby machine.

They were holding on but creaking.

Were it not for some fine individual saves like Sitaleki Timani's tackle on a rampaging Sonny Bill Williams, the All Blacks would have been across the stripe.

This was Williams' last test in black ... for now anyway.

He has a penchant for the big stage, a sense of timing which has followed him from his skirmishes inside the ring to his deeds on the rugby paddocks.

You could tell he was pumped for this test and it seemed the All Blacks coaching staff had factored that influence into their strategies.

Williams had the ball in his large mitts a number of times throughout the first half as he and Ma'a Nonu began to exert more heat than they did last week in Sydney.

Williams made an early bust and recycle which promised to show more than Israel Dagg bundled out in the corner.

There was another foray, a cut move which put Aaron Smith near the tryline but the Wallabies were far more staunch than they had been in Sydney.

Same again as Timani bashed Williams with a hit which has been a rare event on the athletic midfielder since he swapped codes. Williams and Nonu were providing their own tackling lessons too, with hits on Quade Cooper and Drew Mitchell classic examples of the pair reading the play in defence, trusting their systems and their colleagues around them

After a sweet swig on some halftime liquids, Williams upped the muscle.

At times he has delivered some silly offloads.

But the one he made five minutes into the spell was an absolute peach.

Williams came in close to a ruck, took the offload and the hits from three tacklers and slipped an offload. It was a marvelous piece of skill, courage and vision, qualities which surface in superior sportsmen and set them apart from standard international players.

He did not stop. He picked himself up in the same movement to make another carry which left room for Dagg to find the tryline as the Wallaby defences perished.

Nonu found his avenues blocked for much for the match and does not look as comfortable in 13 as he does one position closer in.

He will now reclaim those duties with Williams heading away to his contract in Japan.

If that was not happening and Conrad Smith was passed fit by the medical crew, Nonu might have been facing reserve work in Wellington when the All Blacks run out again in a fortnight against Argentina.

A year ago that would have been unthinkable.

Nonu was in rich form, an automatic pick and Williams was still finding his rugby niche.

Both have brought differing styles to the tough demands of second five eighths - the All Blacks have been blessed.

- Herald on Sunday

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