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Ahhh, the SBW debate. How this has lingered around the New Zealand sporting public for the last few years now. Ever since he made his New Zealand rugby debut for Canterbury back in 2010, there has been much to talk about.
From Canterbury to the All Blacks, to the Crusaders, back into the All Blacks, to boxing, to the Chiefs, temporarily back into the All Blacks, to the Roosters, to the Kiwis (controversially), back again for the Roosters, and now to Counties Manukau and back into the All Blacks, one would imagine. God, it is certainly easy to see why so many people hate him. Oh, and a bit more boxing in there as well.
That is a lot of moving around for any sportsman, let alone one playing two of the most gruelling sports in the world in rugby and rugby league. To his credit, he appears as eager as anything to turn out for Counties Manukau in an NPC debut for his mate Tana Umaga’s team that will take place against Auckland next week.
That will get him back into the swing of the 15-man game ahead of a tour to Chicago and Britain with the All Blacks to re-immerse himself in their ways, a sensible move given the limited test opportunities between now and next year’s World Cup.
And while that is the right move for SBW in order to hone his skill set before he pulls on the black jersey again, there are still so many haters out there that don’t think he deserves one. Why? He hasn’t earned one. And these haters have a fair point too. Does this undermine what it means to be an All Black, and how hard those guys work in order to have that opportunity to wear the black jersey?
Yeah, yeah it probably does, actually. Take Ryan Crotty for example. A true example of working hard to earn the black jersey. He started with his club rugby at the New Brighton club in Christchurch. He then made the move up to NPC footy with Canterbury, eventually getting his chance with the Crusaders – this was somewhat hindered for a season due to none other than Sonny Bill himself occupying the Crusaders number-12 jersey, and then as Sonny Bill headed north to the Chiefs, Crotty got his best chance yet to impress the All Blacks selectors. He would, however, have to wait until 2013 to wear the black jersey for the first time.
But when he got that chance, he took it with both hands. He is now shaping as a genuine contender for the All Blacks first-choice second-five. That is what a true All Black does, in a lot of people’s opinions. That is not, however, what Sonny Bill did. And that’s why a lot of people dislike him. They feel he chases the money, rather than staying loyal to those who have given him so many opportunities. Which I suppose he does.
However, at the end of the day, loyalty and money aside, Sonny Bill is too good for the All Blacks selectors to say no to. His ability to change a game with a freakish offload is something we have never seen before, and when he gets back into the flow of rugby union, he will be as important to the All Blacks’ World Cup defence as anyone else.
It’s no coincidence that his work ethic and commitment to his teams led to his first seasons at the Chiefs and the Roosters ending in titles. Neither of these teams were rated as title hopefuls until he arrived, and his influence rubbed off on other players, all of whom credit Sonny Bill with the change in their attitudes.
And you can expect SBW to give that same commitment to the All Blacks. He will want nothing less than to regain the coveted Rugby World Cup in England in 2015, and you can expect to see him play like it as well. He’ll give everything for the jersey, and with a guy as freakish as Sonny Bill playing with that attitude, that can only be a good thing for New Zealand rugby.