Has any sportsman in history brought out the worst in New Zealanders as easily as Sonny Bill Williams?

All the usual lazy tropes were wheeled out after the returning second-five robbed a bank of valuable collar space.

SBW = selfish.

SBW = show pony.


SBW = dangerous Muslim subversive who will soon have his teammates reading from the Qur'an and observing Ramadan (which, BREAKING NEWS ALERT, ends the night of the first Lions test).

You can understand this being a talkback touchstone that will encourage Little New Zealand to the phones just as damp encourages mould. That's essentially what that forum is designed for.

When the Prime Minister weighs in, though, Sonny Bill Williams goes from a ultra-talented if somewhat mercurial sportsman to being a cultural phenomenon.

"It is hard to understand that one guy has to behave differently than the rest," English told Newshub. "If you're in the team, you're in the team. You wear the team jersey."

How very 1970s small-town New Zealand. How very... Muldoon.

How dare somebody be "different".

At a time when New Zealand sports, including rugby, are making a big show of encouraging diversity, we have the leader of the country calling for the suppression of self to be part of the team. To be one of the boys, if you like.

Maybe it's a smart political move: I can't imagine too many of Mr English's constituents have posters of Sonny Bill on their walls, but even so it would be nice to think the man poised to run the country for the next three-point-something years might have a slightly broader world view.

SBW probably has a narcissistic streak. Many high-profile people do as it allows them to be comfortable in the spotlight most of us shrink from. He occasionally does things that are plainly wrong, like quitting a team mid-season by hopping on a plane and making himself available for another after it was selected.

Now he has made a stand against banking practices and you can see how he might be leaving himself open to accusations of hypocrisy further down the track.

But that's not what this is really about. Mr English unwittingly spoke for most of Williams' detractors and that's the shame of it.

SBW is a Muslim. It's not just a phase. Yes, that makes him a bit different from most of us.

It's high time we got the hell over it.


Nothing about the reaction to this latest Super Rugby tumult is being wise after the fact.

When Sanzar created Sanzaar and puffed an already bloated tournament from 15 teams to 18 we all said it was a dog.

When they announced the points and playoff format to accompany the expansion and a draw that was patently unfair to many teams, we all said it was a dog with webbed feet.

By the time we saw the complete lack of readiness of Japan's Sunwolves and the Southern Kings in particular, we'd given up on the whole hybrid animal thing and just reverted to calling it what it really is - the stuff left behind on lawns by dogs (with or without webbed feet).

Within that frame of reference, then, contraction makes sense. It certainly makes more sense than the rhetoric of not long ago that the tournament would continue to expand and the 10-year blueprint could include teams in the USA and mainland Asia.

No fiddling around with the format or number of teams, however, can change one essential element: you can't make people care about teams they have zero interest in.

While there was never any chance that masses of Australian rugby fans would develop affinity for South African and New Zealand teams, or New Zealand fans for South African and Australian teams and so on, there must have been hope that some irresistible trans-Oceanic rivalries would develop.

There has been the odd flashpoint - I seem to remember early days Blues-Sharks games being quite feisty, as with Crusaders-Brumbies - but nothing has endured. Instead we're left with great local derbies and a whole bunch of apathy.

That's a problem I have no idea how to fix. Perhaps the idea would be to revert back to national championships and the top teams qualify for a Champions League-type tournament but as somebody smarter than me in the office said yesterday: "Who's going to pay for it?"

And where does that leave Argentina, who have no established professional infrastructure beyond the Jaguares?

No club tournament anywhere in the world starts on a logistical back foot like Super Rugby. It is conservatively estimated that when an Australasian franchise visits South Africa, the match effectively starts $150,000 in the red through travel and accommodation alone.

Television pays for that.

Heaven help Southern Hemisphere rugby if the broadcasters ever cotton on to what many of us suspect: this tournament will never work.


Golf writers queued up to try to out-write and overthink themselves on the Miracle of Sergio. Most of it was average, but this piece was diverting enough.

Here's a bit of mindless entertainment, just like the "sport".