For Sonny Bill Williams, Sunday's quarter-final against France will have an added significance - a reunion with France coach Philippe Saint-Andre, his first rugby mentor from his time at Toulon.

Williams' rugby education, after he left the Bulldogs NRL club in Sydney in 2008, was helped by both Jonny Wilkinson and Tana Umaga during his two seasons at Toulon, but the big midfielder also paid tribute to former France wing or centre Saint-Andre.

"He was an awesome coach," Williams said. "He really brought out the best in me and gave me the confidence to I guess kick-start those ambitions to go back to New zealand and have a go at that All Black jersey.

"When I first started I always wanted to play in the forwards. But then at Toulon there was an injury and I ended up staying in the backs and just progressed from there.


"I didn't know too much about rugby when I started but he just said 'make sure you're there for the set plays and just do your thing and back your instincts', and I started playing some pretty good footy. I think he's the kind of coach who knows each individual in his side and tries to get them to play to their strengths. Hopefully it doesn't work this weekend."

Hansen: Leasons learned from 2007

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reflects with Conrad Smith about the lessons learnt in 2007 and pressure of the upcoming quarter-final in Cardiff, and if the ghosts of the defeat to France in 2007 will have any influence.

All Blacks v France, Sunday 8am

Williams, who has been outstanding for the All Blacks off the reserves bench at this World Cup, said he didn't watch his team's 2007 exit after their defeat by France at the same stage, but soon knew all about it.

"I didn't watch the game. I was playing rugby league. I just know that when I went home a week after and flew into New Zealand it was pretty sad times."

Clearly wanting to inject some humour into the press conference, he gave his own summation of skipper Richie McCaw's injury status, when he said of the flanker's thigh issue: "Yeah, Richie's out."

Assistant coach Ian Foster, perhaps mindful of the panic that could cause back home, quickly said: "You can just tell that he's getting a little bit mischievous, but no [he's not]."

- By Patrick McKendry in Swansea