All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams has posted a heartfelt goodbye to New Zealand rugby fans, teammates and management as he embarks on the next adventure in his remarkable sporting career – but, somewhat surprisingly, failed to mention several names, including those of outgoing coach Steve Hansen, former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and New Zealand Rugby chief executive Stew Tew.
Williams, 34, who quit the All Blacks after the failed Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan, confirmed on Friday that he would be joining Canadian league team the Toronto Wolfpack on a two-year deal – reported to be worth almost $10 million.
The code-hopping superstar has had two previous stints with NRL teams – with the Bulldogs between 2004 and 2008, and the Sydney Roosters (2013/2014) – and is undefeated in seven professional boxing bouts.
Continue reading below…
In a message to his 880,000 Twitter followers, Williams thanked NZR chairman Brent Impey and head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum but didn’t mention Tew, who is stepping down next month after 12 years as CEO.
“Obviously, my time in New Zealand has come to an end but I think it’s only right that I send a message of gratitude to those that have helped me along my journey,” Williams said.
“First, I’ll start at the top. NZRU, Brent Impey, Chris Lendrum, it’s been a pleasure dealing with you guys over the last 10 years.”
In the video, 58-test veteran Williams thanks several former teammates, opponents and coaches, including England icon Jonny Wilkinson, and French test star-turned-coach Philippe Saint-Andre.
He also singles out outgoing All Blacks captain Kieran Read as the best captain he’s played with.
Read has captained Williams in the black jersey since taking over from McCaw following his retirement in the aftermath of the All Blacks’ second consecutive World Cup triumph in 2015.
“Influential figures in my career … obviously Tana Umaga, Jonny Wilkinson, John Kirwan, Dave Rennie, Philippe Saint-Andre, you guys put that belief in me when there was still the unknown whether I could go all the way or not, so I’m forever thankful,” Williams said.
“Being able to rub shoulders and play alongside some special players and some special talent. Izzy Dagg, I guess the best captain that I’ve ever played alongside Kieran Read, Liam Messam, Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino … the list goes on and on. The Franks brothers, Sam Cane …”
Williams, who had Super Rugby stints with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues, seems to suggest that All Black rugby is in good hands, with the likes of Beauden, Scott and Jordie Barrett and Rieko and Akira Ioane at the top of their games.
“Also, having longevity and being around long enough to see special talent come through. Guys like the Barrett brothers and the Ioane boys. I just hope you guys remember me when I come up with my sons to ask for signatures in 10 years,” Williams said.
“And last, but not least, [thank you] to the fans – the young ones that come up for signatures and to the old ones that just wanted a yarn, I’m forever grateful.”
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now