Former New Zealand head coach Laurie Mains has labelled Sonny Bill Williams a “mercenary” ahead of his return to Test rugby in November.
Former All Blacks head coach Laurie Mains has labelled Sonny Bill Williams a “mercenary” ahead of the centre’s return to Test rugby in November.
The 29-year-old, who returns to the All Black fold for the second time after two seasons in the NRL, was fast-tracked into next month’s touring squad.
And Mains, who coached the New Zealanders from 1992 until 1995, said the current New Zealand hierarchy appeared content to let Williams flit from one code to another at will.
“He’s a mercenary, there’s no question about that, but he’s a terribly gifted sportsman,” Mains told South Africa’s Sport24 about the inside centre.
“While we might not all agree with the New Zealand rugby union letting him come and go as he pleases, I guess that’s the reality of professional sport.”
Despite his reservations, Mains said Williams’ talent justified the decision to give him an armchair ride into the All Blacks.
“With the World Cup to defend next year, I couldn’t be critical of Steve Hansen’s decision to bring Williams back,” he said.
“Hansen has done a great job – part of his success has been about getting the right people around him to complement his skills.”
Williams won the last of his 19 All Black caps in August 2012.
He began his career in rugby league, winning the 2004 NRL title with the Canterbury Bulldogs in his debut season before walking out on the team mid-contract to play rugby union in France for Toulon.
He contributed to the New Zealand 2011 World Cup win and snared the 2012 Super Rugby title with the Chiefs before returning to the NRL with the Sydney Roosters last year, picking up another title with the side.
Mains also revealed that he rates winger Julia Savea a better player than the legendary Jonah Lomu, who he coached to the 1995 Rugby World Cup final against the Springboks.
“The All Blacks have a better winger now in Julian Savea,” he said of the player known as “The Bus”.
“Savea is the more complete footballer. While he possesses pace and power, he is much stronger on defence than Lomu ever was and goes looking for work.
“However, one of the great rugby tragedies is that when Jonah should have been hitting his peak, he was struck down with a kidney disease. Who knows how good he may have been?”