WELLINGTON – The All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams, who has been hampered by injuries in recent years, hinted Wednesday this could be his last year with Super Rugby and possibly New Zealand rugby.
The announcement came as a pretender to Williams’ throne, Ngani Laumape, revealed he had rejected lucrative offers to play overseas and re-signed with New Zealand through to the end of 2021.
The 33-year-old Williams, eight years older than Laumape and a veteran of 51 Tests, is already a double World Cup winner.
But his illustrious career could end when his contract with Zealand Rugby and the Auckland Blues comes up for renewal after the next World Cup in Japan later this year.
Williams has previously been linked to a return to rival code rugby league after the global showpiece, but the frustration of a string of injuries over the past two years has the code-hopper questioning how much longer he can carry on.
“The last two years have been so injury ravaged I’ve come to understand that I have a plan but that God is the best planner. I put my faith in God and work hard and try to be the best person – husband, father, teammate – that I can be,” Williams told the New Zealand Herald.
Asked whether this could be his last year playing Super Rugby with the Auckland Blues, he replied: “It could be, bro, it could be.”
To be eligible for the All Blacks, a player must be resident in New Zealand and playing for a New Zealand side.
“If I did finish at the end of the year, as long as I competed every day and put my best foot forward as a person and a player I’ll be happy. Who knows?”
Williams this year will be partnered in the Auckland Blues midfield with Test centurion Ma’a Nonu, who, at the age of 37, has returned from three years playing in Europe to try to regain his All Blacks jersey.
But Laumape is looking to stake his own claim to be a starting centre for the All Blacks after making five of his Test appearances off the bench.
The 25-year-old said he had “received offers to head overseas” at the end of the year but preferred to remain in New Zealand with the Wellington Hurricanes and push to cement his place in the All Blacks.
“It was a decision that I feel really happy with and it also gives me and my family security to know where we will be to at least the end of 2021,” he said.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen welcomed Laumape’s decision, describing him as an “outstanding young All Black” who he expected to be playing Test rugby “for some years to come.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)