Sonny Bill Signing with JRFU’s Wild Knights

New Zealand All Black Sonny Bill Williams announced at a press conference today that he will be leaving the Waikato Chiefs at the end of the Super Rugby season and heading to Japan to join his new club, the Panasonic Wild Knights (page needs translation) for the start of the Japanese Rugby Season. During the press conference Williams discussed how much of a surprise the impact of playing rugby in his home country impacted him.

“I didn’t think I would love it as much as I have, back here,” Williams said. “To be honest, I’ve kinda felt like I’ve found my place at the Chiefs.”

By moving to Japan, Williams is removing himself from consideration for the All Blacks squad as they prepare for the 2012 Rugby Championship tournament with New Zealand-Australia-South Africa-Argentina, and possibly might be the permanent end of his All Black career. Williams ended his current All Black career on a strong note, scoring nearly back-to-back tries in the first half for New Zealand in their final summer test, beating Ireland 60-0.

It’s expected that this was a first step for Williams to move from Rugby Union back to Rugby League, and possibly a larger salary. Despite being a fairly popular player with All Black Nation, Williams did not show the same dedication to his national team that many fans wanted, opting to sign year-to-year contracts instead of long-term agreements with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

Williams has not actually signed his contract and no terms have yet been released, but according to Sports Illustrated:

Australian media has speculated Williams will receive up to $1.2 million for his short stint with the Panasonic Wild Knights and could receive more than $800,000 to rejoin the Bulldogs National Rugby League club that he quit in 2008.

 

Despite any concerns about Sonny Bill Williams’ dedication to his national team, I’d like to wish him well in his future rugby endeavors and hope his eventual move to Rugby League pans out the way he hopes.

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New Zealand 60, Ireland 0: What the hell happened to Ireland??

After almost racking up their first non-defeat by the All Blacks last weekend in Christchurch, with the All Blacks winning the game on a last minute drop-goal by Dan Carter, Ireland decided to get the whole pesky “end of game” collapse out of the way in the first 20 minutes of their third Test Saturday in Hamilton. The 60-0 final score was the worst defeat ever by the Irish at New Zealand’s hands, just seven days off from having almost beaten the All Blacks for the first time ever.

Ireland’s collapse started off strong, giving away four tries in the first 22 minutes to the All Blacks, including a back-to-back pair to… wait for it… (no not Gavin Henson)… reputed soon-to-be-returning to Rugby League star Sonny Bill Williams.

The Irish never appeared to be very comfortable, especially once New Zealand took such a commanding 26-0 lead in the first quarter of the game. Ireland were never able to capitalize after captain Brian O’Driscoll started to engineer a drive into New Zealand territory. At the half, Irish fullback Rob Kearney intercepted a pass that would have led to yet another New Zealand try, but the ref decided he deliberately knocked it on, gave  Kearney a 10-minute yellow card, and gave a penalty for the All Blacks, who tacked on a three-point penalty kick to go into the half leading 29-0.

The second half looked no better for the Irish, as the All Blacks picked up where they left off, charging through a battered Irish defense time and again to score nearly at will. By the time it was over the Irish looked dejected, bewildered, wondering if anyone got the name of the train that ran over them in Hamilton.

Unfortunately, last week’s question of “what could have been” has been replaced by “what the hell happened?” Both are questions that will take a long time to answer.  And the way the tour schedule is firming up for the future, Saturday was the last time in the next 12 years that Ireland had a chance at gaining their first win against New Zealand, outside of any possible faceoffs in the World Cup.

Quick Note: Samoans Deny All Black Back-to-Back IRB Sevens Championships

Samoa denied New Zealand back-to-back IRB Sevens tourney championships as the All Blacks are once again the bridesmaids in Las Vegas, losing to Samoa 26-19. Samoa won with a last-second try as time expired. The try capped a scoring flurry in the last few minutes of the Cup Finals match, with New Zealand fighting back from a 19-7 deficit in the second half to tie the game at 19-19 with time ticking down.

Samoa’s Alafoti Faosiliva powered over New Zealand defenders en route to scoring the Samoans’ game winning try after time had expired. Since the ball was still in play, as long as there were no game stoppages (penalties, etc) the game carried on after the clock read :00. Instead of kicking for touch and moving the game into the 5-minute sudden death OT, Samoa kept the ball in play after receiving New Zealand’s kickoff (once the All Blacks tied the game at 19) and drove the ball at the Kiwis. After passes crossing the width of the field and back, Faosiliva found the ball in his hands and fought his way across the try line.

The game was a nice contrast of styles – New Zealand played a nice, patient, finesse style of game, but still wasn’t afraid to take the ball into contact, while the Samoans seemed to crave running directly at the All Blacks. The first half stats showed the difference in each team’s style, with New Zealand completing many more passes than the Samoans, but the Samoans holding onto a 12-5 lead at the half.

All Blacks Wins NZ Sevens – What Does Fate Hold for Las Vegas?

The New Zealand All Blacks once again reigned supreme in Wellington at last weekend’s New Zealand stage of the IRB Sevens World Series. Aptly called the “Hertz Sevens,” for title sponsor the Hertz Car Rental Company, the All Blacks dished out plenty of ass kickings all around in Wellington – going undefeated in pool play and sweeping their way through the championship bracket en route to their tournament victory. With the win the All Blacks broke their tie with runners-up Fiji at the top of the Sevens World Series standings.

Team USA hit the wall in Wellington, going 0-for-the tournament. After a promising 21-0 loss to USA Sevens Tourney champs South Africa, the Eagles lost to England and finally to the Cook Islands (26-22) in their last match of the first day. The second day Eagles fans were witness to defeats to Wales and Scotland to knock them completely out of the tournament.

And the Kenyans, looking to recover from their first day 1-3 showing (with a victory over Australia) put Wales and Scotland to the sword before handing Australia their second loss in two days with a 12-7 win in the Wellington Bowl Finals.

Now the eyes of the Rugby World turn to the United States, for this weekend’s USA Sevens in Las Vegas.

There are several questions that need to be asked and answered by the time the USA Sevens ends this weekend. Can the All Blacks hold on to their tight series lead over Fiji and England? Can the Islanders rally this weekend in Vegas? And what about defending USA Sevens champions South Africa, can they repeat as champions? And what about Kenya? The Kenyans and their fans always delight the crowd in Las Vegas!

And, of course, how will the teams recover from a grueling weekend of Sevens in New Zealand, a 14-16 hour flight, and preparation in the Nevada desert in less than a week?  These questions and more will be answered this weekend! If you don’t have Universal Sports, or the NBC Sports Network, formerly known as the “Versus” network, you can catch the latest updates at universalsports.com or usarugby.org!

Is Sonny Bill on the Move Again?

According to a Jan. 1 (2012, gotta love the news from the “future” 😉 ) report from NZ’s “Stuff” news portal, former (?) All Black Sonny Bill Williams might be pondering moving back to Rugby League after what can only be considered a successful move to Rugby Union back in 2008.

The versatile, multi-position savvy Williams was recently seen lunching with his manager, Khoder Nasser, along with Nick Politis, the head honcho of the Sydney Roosters from the Australia’s National Rugby League (Roosters? Really? OK, I guess it really can’t be worse than “Seahawks” or “Cardinals”) and David Gyngell, from Australia’s Channel Nine.

In this article from the Herald Sun, Williams is ready to sign a five-year, $4 million deal with the Roosters in 2013. Why the wait? And why does this matter? In 2008 Williams left the Canterbury Bulldogs, and Rugby League, to cash a paycheck playing Rugby Union in France (a popular landing spot for ruggers looking to extend their careers (see Wilkinson, Johnny), revive their careers (see Henson, Gavin), or make more money (as was apparently the case here)). At the time, Williams was 18 months into a 5-year contract with the Bulldogs. The French club Williams signed on with ended up having to pay a 300,000-pound transfer fee for his services. But one clause in his release prevents Williams from playing for a rival National Rugby League club – that clause expires in 2012, opening up new options for him in the following year.

(For more on the war raging between rugby league and rugby union, please read this.)

I’m torn on this one, on one hand it’s surprising to me that anyone playing for the All Blacks, and landing deals to play in New Zealand’s national competition and for New Zealand teams in the Super Rugby international pro league would turn their back on the opportunity, especially having just come off of a World Cup victory campaign. Of course, I’m also an All Blacks mark as well, the Kiwi’s being near and dear to my heart.

On the other hand, this is par for the course for the mercurial Williams. In addition to the jump from Rugby League to Rugby Union and the expected jump back (each time for monetary reasons), Williams is also a professional boxer (as are a few rugby professionals, or former rugby pros) and representative of the aforementioned Australia Channel Nine.

Plus Williams’ agent, Khoder Nasser, is a very shrewd, and hard-ass, negotiator – Nasser is a rare rugby agent, comfortable not being part of the “elite, privately educated clique” that much of professional rugby still pride themselves on being connected to. Nasser sees his job as shaking up this system, and getting as much money as possible for his client (and by extension himself) – bringing an interesting personal focus to what has always been considered a “team-first” rugby mentality.

It will be interesting to see what the next couple of years bring to the pair of Williams and Nasser, will the move back to Rugby League prove lucrative for them? Have they burned their bridges with the All Blacks and a potential 2015 RWC championship run?

A Dual-Use Rugby Office?

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union recently decided to open an office in Paris, ostensibly to capitalize on the popularity of the All Blacks in Europe following their Rugby World Cup win.

A secondary use for the new offices might be to keep track of all of the All Blacks, and other New Zealand ruggers, who keep getting targeted by certain European professional rugby competitions (I’m looking at you here, Frenchie) with huge contracts to leave Kiwi Nation.