Sonny Bill Williams’ impact on rugby stretches far beyond the Tasman, and even into the territory of onfield rivals.
The former All Black has enjoyed plenty of success in his career, but his most storied chapters have arguably come in the All Blacks jersey, with two Rugby World Cups to his credit.
His skill has been as much a staple with impressive mobility and passing for someone that stands at 1.91 metres and weighs 110 kilograms.
Those skills are something South African utility back Jesse Kriel picked up on. Since making his debut in 2015, the 26-year-old has donned the deep green strip in 46 tests, a good number of them against the All Blacks and their former glamour midfielder.
He says a particular fancy flick, mastered by Williams, was always on his list to perfect.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 14, 2020
“One of the most satisfying things … I never use to really offload much,” he told the Rugby Bricks podcast.
“Then obviously playing against a guy like Sonny Bill a lot, he’s a great guy, great player, I use to admire that pass he did and it was something I really wanted to add to my game.”
Kriel spent his Super Rugby career with the Bulls, part of which he worked under former All Blacks head coach and now England assistant John Mitchell in 2017 and 2018. Kriel has since moved to Japan, signing with the Canon Eagles.
“Couple of seasons back, first game of the season, John Mitchell was actually our coach, and in the preseason I was working really hard with our skills guy at the Bulls.
“After every session I used to do 10 or 15 backhand passes, just squaring up the guy, getting that fend out and then getting that pass away to a support runner. First game of Super Rugby at Loftus, we got the Hurricanes … squared up [Julian] Savea, he came in from his wing to adjust, got that little pass away and it was a nice little assist for a try.”
That try was the Bulls’ opener, and proved to be crucial in a game they won narrowly 21-19 to open their 2018 campaign.
“That’s where you get that satisfaction from all those little extras throughout a preseason, something that you really worked hard on and then it comes to reality in a game. Those are what you put all the hours in for, those little moments,” Kriel said.
“I remember literally as I made the pass, I just thought … flip … yeah that’s it … that’s exactly the drill we’ve been working on.”
While part of the 2019 World Cup winning South African squad, Kriel was unlucky to feature in just one game – their opening loss to New Zealand – due to a hamstring injury, thought was able to face off against Williams after coming off the bench to round out the contest.
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