Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 1 November 2014

Wilko inspired 'superman' Williams

Sonny Bill Williams

New Zealand's new "superman" Sonny Bill Williams revealed how Jonny Wilkinson inspired his remarkable rise from rookie centre to All Blacks international.

Williams switched codes in 2008 when he signed for Toulon but for over a year he was plagued by injury and constant doubts about his ability. It was only when Wilkinson signed for Toulon the following summer that Williams slowly began to realise his full potential in the game.

"When I first went to Toulon I was injured a lot and I didn't know if I could cut it. I had a lot of self-doubts," said Williams.

"Fortunately, Tana Umaga (then Toulon coach) had the foresight that I could play rugby even before I did and playing with Jonny last year gave me a lot of confidence.

"I used to speak to Jonny about how much it meant to him to play for his country and how much he got out of it. On top of that was the driving factor of trying to prove myself in rugby.

"To play alongside some greats in Jonny, Tana Umaga, Felipe Contepomi, Joe Van Niekerk really helped my game because I knew those guys had reached the top.

"After that I felt I could mix it with the best. That is why I wanted to go back and have a crack at the All Blacks. To prove to people and to myself that I could play.

"The biggest thing for me is pulling on that black jersey. A couple of years ago it seemed so far away."

The former Kiwi rugby league star will make his Test debut against England on Saturday after coach Graham Henry made four changes from last weekend's 26-24 defeat to Australia.

Williams comes in for Conrad Smith while Hosea Gear, who scored a hat-trick in the New Zealand Maori's 35-28 victory over England in June, replaces the injured Cory Jane on the wing. Alby Mathewson will make his starting debut at scrum-half in place of Jimmy Cowan while Samuel Whitelock takes over from Tom Donnelly in the second row.

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