In February, the Blues players were required to do a promotional activity in Pukekohe.

Sonny Bill Williams didn't travel in the bus with the rest of the squad. As his rehabilitation from his Achilles surgery continued, he had only a narrow window of opportunity to do his second training session of the day, so he decided to travel south early in his own car, train by himself on one of the fields in the town, and arrive before any of his teammates got there - ready and willing to smile, shake hands, and do what professional rugby players do these days.

If any of the relatively young Blues squad needed a role model in terms of mental and physical preparation, Williams, in his first year at the franchise - his third after stints at first the Crusaders and then the Chiefs - has surely provided it.

It's one thing for young players to hear those in positions of authority at a club spout messages about professionalism and doing the right thing, but quite another to see one of their peers live it every day.


Williams' work ethic and desire to continually improve would have been one of the reasons Tana Umaga signed him on a three-year contract - one of the longest the All Blacks midfielder has signed in his career. Williams turns 32 in August and probably reasons that his traditional 12-month contracts are behind him now.

We will find out more over the coming weeks - starting tonight against the Highlanders in Dunedin where he is scheduled to play in the second half - about how he is physically as he returns from a major injury. He said this week he believed he was faster and had added a few subtleties to his game which has traditionally veered between the sheer force of his defending and finesse of offloading.

One look at Williams' physique is all it takes to know he is genetically gifted. He has a ridiculously low body fat percentage of about 5 per cent by one measurement - 35mm on another scale - which is the lowest in the All Blacks and puts him in a bracket including Tour de France cyclists.

It takes extreme levels of dedication to maintain that level of fitness, and hopefully for the Blues some of that attitude can rub off on others.

There were rumours a couple of years ago, before Umaga started, about some of the younger players believing that it was "uncool" to do extra training outside of the weekly schedule. Presumably that mentality has gone, but it's clear that some could do with adopting Williams' mentality towards his work and particularly his diet, which he has described as the most important part of his training.

There is another story about Williams years ago asking his father, John, to drive to a field at night and shine the lights on to the grass so he could continue training.

Hopefully Williams' example at a franchise which has underperformed for years can turn on a few more.

Sonny's five greatest hits

5) Sonny Bill Williams made his All Blacks debut in 2010 against England at Twickenham. He played at centre outside Ma'a Nonu and announced his presence in his traditional manner - a brilliant offload to Jerome Kaino, who burst upfield and put Hosea Gear away for the opening try.

4) A week later and Williams started against Scotland at Murrayfield in the No12 jersey, and it looked like a case of a man against boys. He provided the offload for Gear's opening try, another for Mils Muliaina's in the second half.

3) Fittingly, Williams scores the final try for the Chiefs in their 2012 final victory over the Sharks. It was his final touch of the ball for his team before his brief move back to league.

2) The All Blacks tore Ireland apart in the third test in Hamilton in June, 2012, and much of their dominance was due to the combination between Williams and the man inside him Aaron Cruden, his then Chiefs teammate. The Irish got to within a few points a week earlier in Christchurch, but they had little left at Waikato Stadium, with Cruden and Williams tearing the men in green apart. First Williams combined with Cruden for the first try, then the No10 provided one for Williams with an offload, and only minutes later did it again with another one-two combination. In the second half, Williams put a kick through for Israel Dagg's try as the ABs won 60-0.

1) Injected into the 2015 World Cup final after halftime by coach Steve Hansen, Williams wasted little time. In the 42nd minute he took a Dan Carter pass and offloaded to Nehe Milner-Skudder, taking out two Wallabies defenders in the process. From that ruck he received the ball again, attracted the attentions of halfback Will Genia and prop Scott Sio, and offloaded to Nonu, who went on an incredible angled run for a try which prompted the English commentator to say: "The All Blacks are on their way to a very special place in World Cup history."
Patrick McKendry