Fresh from playing a crucial role as New Zealand’s super sub during their triumphant 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign, the hugely popular Sonny Bill Williams is set to visit Dubai.
The celebrated dual-code international was a ruthlessly effective impact player for the imperious All Blacks as they retained the Webb Ellis Cup in England last month, beating arch-rivals Australia in the final at Twickenham.
And Williams, lauded worldwide for his generosity after he gave his winner’s medal to a starstruck young fan, will be the guest of honour when he appears at next weekend’s Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens (Dec 3-5).
The 30-year-old will not be playing but will spend time meeting fans and cheering on the New Zealand team, whom he hopes to join for a shot at gold at next year’s Rio Olympics.
How excited are you about coming to the Dubai Rugby Sevens?
I’ve watched it on TV before so I’m really excited about coming to see it live. I’ve been in contact with Tietjs (Sir Gordon Tietjens, New Zealand sevens coach) and he’s pretty keen to get me there. I’ll probably sit down and watch a few games with them and just try and get a feel for it. On top of that I’ll get to see the New Zealand boys and hang around with them and enjoy my experience.
I’m keen to get a feel for it. This is my break time, but I know I’ve got a lot to learn and what better time than coming over to Dubai and seeing the boys do their thing live and up close.
After four straight World Sevens Series titles, the All Blacks Sevens lost their crown to Fiji last year. How hungry will they be?
I’m pretty sure they’ll be very hungry. But in saying that it’s probably not my place to comment. I’ve not been involved with the sevens before.
I don’t really know too much about it. All I know is that back home in New Zealand, and I’m sure all around the world, a few of these guys are legends.
So it sounds like you could be making a foray into sevens ahead of it’s debut at the 2016 Olympic Games?
It’s pretty humbling to have someone such as Tietjs expressing a bit of interest in myself and obviously the big thing at the end of it is to try and make the Olympics.
Growing up as a sportsman there’s nothing bigger than the Olympics, so when that opportunity arose there was no way I wasn’t going to chuck my hat in the ring. It’s a lot of hard work but I’m really excited.
I just see it as a massive challenge. It’s quite nerve-wracking and scary to be frank. It gets the juices going and I’m really excited about it.
You started out playing rugby league, then went to union and then took up boxing, so you clearly like a challenge?
Yeah, it keeps the juices flowing. I think when you’re playing at a higher level there’s not a lot of difference between most players.
I believe you have to have that drive, that hunger which gives you an edge. That mental hunger and passion. You have to put yourself in those types of situations where you can feel that. It’s going to make you want to train and do extra and stretch
I know to be a good sevens player, from talking to Tietjs and other boys that have gone down that path, you need all those attributes, and that’s not even talking about the playing side of things. I definitely have my work cut out but I’m definitely excited and keen to get started.
What would it mean to you to represent your country at the Olympics?
It would be massive. I didn’t play rugby league until I was eight or nine. I’ve always loved league and loved watching the All Blacks, but one thing I can honestly say is that the Olympics stands out.
You grow up watching the Kiwis and the All blacks, the Eric Rush’s, the Waisale Serevi’s, the Lomu’s, you remember that, but you always know when the Olympics are on the world stands still. To have the opportunity to put my hat in the ring to achieve something like that is definitely the pinnacle.
You were part of the All Blacks side to win the Rugby World Cup a month ago, but then the country and the game lost one of the all-time greats when Jonah Lomu died. What are your thoughts on him?
To be honest I didn’t really know Jonah that well. I met him about three times, but the one thing I can say is that he embodied that Polynesian spirit. He was truly the first global rugby superstar. For the boys back home growing up it made us proud to say we were Islanders.
He was the first star but he really was proud of his Islander heritage. He was proud to be a New Zealander but also proud of his Tongan heritage. Islanders seeing that, it was inspiring. He was a generous, humble character. He definitely embodied that Islander spirit.
Detox time pic.twitter.com/A5l79XPHG6
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) November 25, 2015
Did you watch him growing up and think that’s the type of player I want to be?
I think most young people, just people in general, saw what he did on the field and thought that was amazing. It was a special era.
At Test level he was running past people like they were little kids. We will never see that again.
You will never see a 6ft 5in, 125kg guy that can run the 100 metres in 10 seconds. A guy like that making it look like men playing kids, in the professional era, I can honestly say you’ll never see anything like that ever again. He was a special man
What was it like being part of an All Blacks side to become the first country to retain the World Cup?
I don’t think it really settled in until we got home just how special it was. Not only was it a special feeling but it had never been achieved before.
No New Zealand team had won a World Cup in the northern hemisphere. No team had won back-to-back World Cups, so that was a feat in itself and it was just amazing to be part of that. From an individual point of view I was just glad to play some of the best rugby that I’ve ever played on that stage, I was really happy with that.
You made headlines after the final too for giving away your medal to a young boy who came on to the pitch. It was a touching moment. Can you explain why you did that?
It just happened. It was raw. He just jumped in front of me and I just did what I thought was right. It was how I was raised.
I kind of felt for the young fella, I really did. To be honest having the medal doesn’t really signify that I’m a world champion.
I know what I achieved and what I accomplished both as a team and as an individual and I don’t need a medal to signify that.
I’ll have the memories with my team-mates. When I saw the kid I thought I’d get him back to his parents and I knew when I gave him that medal he’d cherish it for life.
— Dubai Rugby Sevens (@Dubai7s) November 25, 2015
He’d be able to tell his kids, his grandkids. I knew it wouldn’t just make his night, he’ll hold that memory forever.
I can honestly say that feeling and knowing that is better than having a medal hanging on my wall, walking past it and thinking ‘oh yeah, I won that at the World Cup’.
For more information on the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens and to buy tickets, please visit www.dubairugby7s.com.