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.

Brian O’Driscoll, Injuries, and the “Club vs. Country” Debate

Ireland center Brian O’Driscoll might become the latest Rugby World Cup casualty to take an extended leave of absence from the rugby pitch.

After gutting through the Rugby World Cup, thanks in large part to cortisone injections according to ESPN Scrum, O’Driscoll, 32, is at risk of having to get surgery for an injured shoulder so he can play for RaboDirect PRO 12 team Leinster. According to Leinster coach Joe Schmidt:

“He’s a fairly precious commodity, BOD, so we want to make sure we don’t play him in the condition that’s going to affect him in the future and we look after him as best we can. Because if we can get him right, he’s a fairly handy fellah to have.”

This brings up the question of club vs. country once again. It’s considered the greatest honor for a player to be selected for their country, but in an age of professionalism teams have to ask how best to balance both commitments for players. These professional teams are paying thousands of dollars/pounds/euros for the services of these players,and have as much of a right to these players’ efforts.

If they aren’t available because of injuries sustained in the line of their international duty, then I’m sure many of these teams feel that steps need to be taken. Whether it’s the professional team being compensated part of their salary spent on the player by the country, or another agreement between the competition, teams and country.

I’m sure there are those who have a counter opinion, that national team matches are more important than professional team expectations. They might even wish to point to soccer or basketball as an example, that it is possible to play for both team and nation.

As anyone who has ever been on the rugby pitch knows, rugby is a more physical sport than either of those two sports. Placing the same expectations on a rugby player that fans might have on a soccer player are more likely to wear down the rugger, increasing the chances for additional injuries.

Professional rugby players already have a too-long season to contend with, but to pile on additional national team duties, or visiting international tours on top of that might be pushing these athletes to, or beyond, their physical limits.