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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: All Blacks legend Sonny Bill Williams on hanging out with David Beckham, World Cup memories and split loyalities ahead of the Rugby World Cup final versus South Africa


The textbooks are still scattered across the table from the morning’s home-schooling session in the Williams household. They have rented a house off AirBnB, in a small village 40 miles west of Paris, where Sonny Bill has been living with his wife and four children for two months.

‘My eight-year-old is teaching me sometimes!’ says the former All Black, clearing the decks as he speaks. ‘Bro, I’m telling you, I dropped out of school when I was 13. I’m learning! It’s been cool.’

As one of the boys, Zaid, runs past, he asks them who is going to win the World Cup. ‘New Zealand!’ he shouts, as Williams talks through the family adventure in Europe. They have darted around from one base to another, taking in the sights and sounds on the holiday of a lifetime.

‘I got to shoot over to Qatar for a few days for the Formula One,’ he explains. ‘It just happened that I was there at the same time as David Beckham. We had a good yarn, asked how the family were, asked for my thoughts on the World Cup. It’s quite humbling when someone of that status knows who you are.

‘He knows his rugby, man. Old Becks knows rugby. I wonder what position he’d play. Probably a No 10. He’s a smooth dude. We couldn’t put him in the forwards — put him in a dinner suit at No 10! I’d do all his carries and tackles and he can do the press conferences!

All Blacks legend Sonny Bill Williams will be routing for his former side when they take on South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final

All Blacks legend Sonny Bill Williams will be routing for his former side when they take on South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final

Williams hoisted the Rugby World Cup trophy aloft for the second time in 2015 at Twickenham

Williams hoisted the Rugby World Cup trophy aloft for the second time in 2015 at Twickenham

The player is backing head coach Ian Foster to lead New Zealand to a history-making win

The player is backing head coach Ian Foster to lead New Zealand to a history-making win

‘I was explaining how I work in a broadcast team now and said, “Bro, it’s hard being up close to it all. You wish the players well but you’re jealous because you want to be on that stage still”. You have to accept that everything has its time and he said, “Mate, I feel exactly the same”. All sportsmen miss the big stage. Especially these big World Cup games. I played some of my best footy on the biggest stage because that’s when it’s all or nothing. The games when reputations are made. That’s what I miss.’

Before the conversation turns to the match itself, Williams talks through life since he stopped playing in 2019, after the World Cup in Japan. The family moved to Australia, where they will return next week. Boxing has become Williams’ thing and last year he travelled to Morecambe to train with Tyson Fury.

Sonny Bill William’s record for New Zealand 

Games 58

Tries 13

Points 81

Williams won the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011 and 2015 

‘I’ve brought my gloves to France! There’s a park up the road with a big bodyweight circuit. Some of the people down there see this big dude and think, “Who is this guy!”

‘It was so good seeing Tyson up close. We’d do a 15-round session and by the end I’d be out on my feet but he’s there doing the shuffle, dancing, saying, “I’m Muhammad Ali, kid… let’s go again!” It’s his genetic make-up that he can go and go. I did some sparring with him when you try to recover with a couple of soft jabs and he’s like, “What the hell is that Sonny, put your weight behind it!”

‘He’s a big man but his arms are thick and he’s quick. I reckon he’d would go well as a lock. A big boy who can go again, getting in amongst it. I reckon he’d be great at offloading. It was an experience, man.’

On Saturday night, when Williams will be pitchside in his new role for Stan Sport, his kids will be watching with split loyalties, given their maternal roots are South African. Williams won two World Cups with New Zealand — 2011 and 2015 — and this weekend he is backing his old team to become the first country to win it four times.

‘New Zealand go in as favourites… that’s what I believe,’ he says. ‘I think they’re in a much better place than when they met South Africa just before the tournament. They’ve built into the tournament better than South Africa have.

‘They will have taken a lot of confidence from watching their semi-final. I think they’ll see where England targeted South Africa aerially and physically and got a lot of gains there.’

A huge boxing aficionado, in 2022, Williams travelled to Morecambe to train with Tyson Fury

A huge boxing aficionado, in 2022, Williams travelled to Morecambe to train with Tyson Fury

Williams (centre) featured for New Zealand before retiring after the last World Cup in Japan

Williams (centre) featured for New Zealand before retiring after the last World Cup in Japan

The former player refers to his 2015 World Cup side as a golden generation - and one of the best that have ever played the game

The former player refers to his 2015 World Cup side as a golden generation – and one of the best that have ever played the game

Williams made his name as a hard-hitting, offloading centre, creating broken-field opportunities with the collisions that would make Tyson Fury wince. It was box office entertainment at a time when the All Blacks developed into the most dominant sports team in the world.

‘That 2015 World Cup team was one of the best teams to have played,’ he says. Jerome Kaino, Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu. You can’t replace those players overnight. I came through in that golden period. Time changed and Northern teams got better. There’s been a lot of Australasian influence in northern hemisphere systems.

‘The northern hemisphere teams stepped it up. Ball in play time is the lowest it’s been for a very long time. France v New Zealand live ball in the opening game was 29 minutes. It was 29 minutes in the first half of the Bledisloe Cup. That’s our style, that’s where we thrive and that’s what we’ve got to try to get it to. I love to see fast, flowing footy because that’s how I loved to play the game. Someone might love 15 minutes of live ball because they love scrums.

‘Ireland v New Zealand in the quarter-final was potentially the fastest game of the tournament. That tempo and physicality at the ruck suits New Zealand. If they can play fast when possible then they will be confident that they’ll win.’



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