Homework benefits star Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams reckons he wasn't much cop at computers at school but digital diligence is now adding to his armoury as an All Blacks strike weapon.
The 26-year-old Chiefs midfielder – rugby league's gift to the 15-man code – has been boning up on the basics to become a more rounded rugby union player rather than obsess about offloading at any opportunity.
Williams wasn't happy with spilling the pill in the first test against Ireland but gave himself a pass mark overall and vowed to "up my game" in tomorrow's second test in Christchurch.
Much has been made of the game-breaking second five-eighth's improved game awareness at the Chiefs under Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith's coaching.
Williams agrees he's become better at "sticking to a team structure" and "not looking for the flash play every time. That's [been] the biggest thing." But he's also reaping dividends from toil the rugby public doesn't see – homework.
"I've been doing a lot of hard work, especially early in the week, on the computers.
"I was never good at computers and stuff at school, so it was a bit of a learning curve, but doing all those hard things, or little things, has really helped my game."
Williams said his research had helped him "see different situations" and better evaluate his options on the pitch. That had given him more confidence to "talk to the team and help the boss man [his first five-eighth] on the field".
All Blacks centre Conrad Smith has noticed his midfield partner seems more in sync this season.
"He'd be the first to say himself rugby's not an easy game to pick up. Guys who have come across [from rugby league], [like] Brad Thorn would have told you the same thing.
"That's what [SBW's] doing well, he's just learning bits about the game. He's reading the game a lot more and I think that's really helping him."
Smith enjoyed his long stint at the Hurricanes and the All Blacks with fellow World Cup hero Ma'a Nonu but he's striking up a rapid rapport with SBW, who he sees as a boon to the rest of the backline.
"He's playing great footy. Most people are aware of his abilities, his skill set's pretty amazing. It's great to play alongside him, I must say, you just see in a game the space he creates whether he's got the ball or not, the way he will make a gain-line every time he carries it and what it will do to a defence.
"Everyone's suddenly looking at him. It makes things easier for Issy [fullback Israel Dagg], myself and the wingers. If we can continue to build that, then we will create a lot of chances for the guys out wide."
Williams was disappointed to have the ball knocked out of his big mitts when he took on "one of [the Irish] fatties" on the outside early in the first test at Auckland.
"I thought, `not this again'. You always have those thoughts in your head. I was happy with myself to come back from that at the start and have a solid game ...
"I just want to prove my worth, get involved and do the dirty stuff and pop up where I can. If that means 10 hit-ups into the forwards, then it has to be."
Williams soon became aware the Irish defenders were swarming to him like moths to a flame so, after some "problem solving on the field", the All Blacks worked a move where "Issy just about went through but he passed the ball where usually, nine times out of 10, he'd dummy and go through himself".
But he enjoyed being part of an All Blacks backline that feasted on front-foot ball won by their pack and wants to see more of the same tomorrow.
Smith is thriving on the responsibility of helping Dan Carter guide a young All Blacks backline.
The 30-year-old, who will win his 57th cap tomorrow, said captaining the Hurricanes this year had "helped me a lot" and was "a good step forward" after nine seasons with the franchise.
Smith vowed there was no chance of the All Blacks resting on their laurels despite their 42-10 romp in the first test.
"The coaches have been pretty good about getting our feet back on the ground after that result. They've brought up two or three things they want us to do ..."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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