Sonny Bill Williams is set to return to New Zealand rugby in 2015, as was reported by the Otago Daily Times. The former All Black second five-eighth has signed a two-year deal with the Chiefs, which will see him once again compete for the No. 12 black jersey with incumbent Ma'a Nonu.
The move will be greeted with mixed feelings from many in New Zealand. While Williams is no doubt an outstanding athlete, who has great potential, his lack of long-term commitment to either rugby league or union means that neither can bargain on having him around in their systems for an extended period of time.
In this case, we see Williams' return coincide with the Rugby World Cup year, staying for another year to compete for a spot in the New Zealand Sevens side for the Olympics. It is nothing new for the superstar, who has a tendency to make sure he is around for the biggest events in either code.
That said, Williams is coming, so there is no use worrying about any of that any more. How he will go is another question.
In his previous stint in rugby union, it took Williams the best part of two years to fully adjust to the game. It was not until his 2012 move to the Chiefs in Super Rugby that he began to really show what he was capable of.
Playing outside Aaron Cruden, Williams was getting the ball at the line and looked threatening in both running and distributing.
Williams' offloading game has always been amongst the best in the business, but he now knows when to use it, making it harder to defend as the defence cannot just rush up to close down the outside channel. Defensively, Williams looked far more assured too and formed a reliable midfield partnership with Richard Kahui.
His form with the All Blacks that year was sublime prior to his departure and, had he not left, he surely would have remained the first-choice No. 12 ahead of Nonu.
But by 2015, Williams will have been away from the game for two seasons, having been playing rugby league in the NRL with the Sydney Roosters. His form there has been good, but the two games are very different and require different skill sets, with league definitely suiting Williams more than union.
You would expect his transition to be far smoother than his first one, which is a good sign. Although with it being World Cup year, Williams is leaving himself little time to play into form if he shows a bit of rust at first.
At the very least though, he offers a second quality choice at second five-eighth, which is something the All Blacks lacked this year. Ryan Crotty and Francis Saili were both used at times, but neither really convinced, not in the short-term at least. Perhaps things will have changed by 2015, but it is certainly a position where more depth is needed now.
While perhaps not quite as tidy as Nonu, Williams will bring flair that Nonu does not show as often nowadays. His offload is one of the most dangerous attacking weapons in rugby and, with the likes of Julian Savea running off him, the back line will become much more dangerous for having him there.
The biggest question mark remains over how Williams will transfer back into rugby union. But if he can find the form he was showing in 2012, he will be hard to leave out of the starting line-up, even at the expense of a player of the calibre of Nonu.
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