SBW 'what a bloke should look like'

JOE BENNETT
Last updated 07:56 18/07/2012

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Joe Bennett

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OPINION: Twenty-six years ago a registrar paused, his pen hovering above a birth certificate. "Are you quite sure?" he said.

Mum and dad looked at each other and smiled. "Quite sure," said mum. "Quite sure," said dad.

"Very well," said the registrar and with a little sigh he inscribed on the certificate the improbable name of Sonny William Williams.

But the parents were bang right. Just as they intended, the infant became known as Sonny Bill. And it's a cracking name. It resonates.

It carries echoes of Sonny Liston the boxer and Buffalo Bill the gunslinger, and perhaps of Sonny Jim, the universal cocky urchin.

But, and I have only just realised this, the name is also a variant of an even more famous name, a name from folklore.

Sonny Bill is Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid killed his first man at the age of 18. By 1881, when he was still only 22, he had killed half a dozen or so.

He was captured, tried and sentenced to hang, but he escaped from prison, killing both his guards in the process. As a result he became the most wanted man in the west.

A few months later he was tracked down and shot by a sheriff called Garrett, whom history has forgotten.

But it hasn't forgotten Billy the Kid. He is remembered as the baby-faced outlaw, the renegade, the man with a price on his head, and an archetypal hero. Which seems a tad unfair on the men he shot.

Sonny Bill is an archetypal hero of a different sort.

He has killed no-one, and the only people he has bashed up have been willing opponents in the boxing ring. Yet if you type his name into the internet, you will discover that he, too, is a wanted man.

"i love you sonnybill williams," posted Anonymous on September 26, 2011. "marrie me please".

There's a mass of similar sentiment, much of it anatomically explicit. His abdominal muscles, that fetish of the age, come in for particular attention.

For Sonny Bill Williams is the platonic ideal of what a bloke should look like. He's six foot four (even more in metric measurements) and though he weighs 17 stone (which is roughly two Billy the Kids), there isn't an ounce of spare flesh on him.

Male or female, gay or straight, you can't help staring at him.

Whenever he plays rugby the camera dwells on him, not because of his play but because of his physique.

He is the Greek discus thrower come to life, with the shoulders of Atlas, the waist of a wasp, the looks of Apollo and the haircut of Superman. Had he and Michelangelo ever bumped into each other, David would have been out of a job.

Sonny Bill's the archetype of the male form, the perfect specimen.

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But just as he arouses adoration he also arouses its flip side, hatred. "Rot in hell, trater," posted another Anonymous last week, presumably unrelated to the first though they seem to have shared a spelling teacher.

The cause of this hatred is Sonny Bill's decision to play rugby next year in Japan. And as many a commentator has commentated he has the right to make that decision.

He is acting no differently from a builder who moves to Christchurch because that's where the money is. And whereas a builder can expect to build for 40 years, Sonny Bill can expect to play rugby for a dozen years at best. He is wise to wring all he can from those years.

But that does not explain the intensity of the hatred that Sonny Bill has generated. Clearly Anonymous is an All Blacks supporter. Yet I doubt he believes that Sonny Bill's defection will ruin the All Blacks. Sonny Bill is a fine player but New Zealand abounds in fine players.

What is eating Anonymous is that Sonny Bill has revealed the professional game to be just that. It is a game in the sense that it actually doesn't matter much. And it is professional in the sense that it is being done for money. And that money derives from people like Anonymous who believe rugby matters.

Sonny Bill is like the priest who suddenly reveals that he's an atheist. To him it's just a job. He's only in it for the salary.

Thus he rips the veil from the tabernacle and reveals the sacred World Cup to be cheap tin plate. The elaborate edifice of belief is just a con.

It isn't Sonny Bill that Anonymous hates.

It's that Sonny Bill has made him look in the mirror and ask, "Who's the dupe?"

- © Fairfax NZ News

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