SBW could quit NZ over sponsorship snag

AARON LAWTON
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2011
Sonny Bill Williams
IAIN MCGREGOR/The Press
SUN SETTING ON SONNY?: A sponsorship standoff may result in Sonny Bill Williams leaving New Zealand rugby.

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Sonny Bill Williams is looking increasingly likely to quit New Zealand rugby after the world cup as protracted contract negotiations with the national union continue to sour.

The Sunday Star-Times revealed last weekend that a major sponsorship row had erupted between Williams' high profile manager Khoder Nasser and the NZRU after it ruled out a personal endorsement deal.

Nasser couldn't be reached for comment but sources close to Williams claimed the Crusaders star's continued non-selection in the top All Blacks XV was "agenda-driven".

Adding fuel to the fire, his close friend, league star turned boxing champion Anthony Mundine, then tweeted from Sydney yesterday that he intended to persuade Williams to quit New Zealand rugby.

The seven-test All Black, who is off contract after the tournament and is arguably the most sought-after player in world rugby, signalled to the NZRU earlier this month that he would re-sign for an additional season.

But he is yet to actually sign and may be having a change of heart after a particularly torrid month in which he's surprisingly had limited All Blacks game time and found himself at the centre of the sponsorship disagreement.

Despite a strong Super Rugby season in which Williams starred for the Crusaders, he has had few chances to prove himself for the All Blacks and is now clearly behind Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith in the selection pecking order at the world cup.

Out of five possible tests, Williams has started just once, in a so-called All Blacks "B" team against the Springboks last weekend, and has come off the bench twice.

In 15 matches for the Crusaders this year, he scored five tries compared to Nonu's three in 12 matches for the Hurricanes, while Smith had an injury-plagued season and played only seven matches.

Williams also featured inside the top 10 for try assists, line-break assists and was first for offloads in the entire competition, markedly higher than his two midfield rivals.

Off the field, the NZRU has ruled out a Nasser energy drink deal with South Pacific Brands as it is seen as a direct competitor to All Blacks sponsor Coca-Cola.

Contract talks have stalled as a result and on Friday South Pacific Brands suggested rugby bosses were being hypocritical, pointing out that Dan Carter and Richie McCaw endorse their own brand of water which is a competitor to Coca-Cola's Pump water.

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Close confidantes of Williams are convinced an agenda is in place to keep the former league star out of the All Blacks team.

Mundine tweeted on Friday, questioning the wisdom of the national selectors.

But more concerning yesterday another tweet went further and suggested Williams could soon be lost to New Zealand rugby.

"Bra the more I think of this bullshit the more I think I gotta get yu [sic] out of that environment," Mundine messaged.

- Sunday Star Times

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