NEW ZEALAND coach Graham Henry insists Sonny Bill Williams is no mercenary after revealing the 25-year-old took a huge pay cut to fulfil his dream of becoming an All Black.
Former rugby league star Williams was criticised for switching codes in 2008, leaving Australian side Canterbury Bulldogs to take up a lucrative contract with French side Toulon.
However, he turned his back on Europe and another large pay day this summer to return home and join Canterbury with the intention of forcing his way into the All Blacks squad.
That ambition was realised when Henry named him in his 30-man squad for the upcoming tour of the northern hemisphere, which begins with a Bledisloe Cup game against Australia on October 30.
And the New Zealand coach was quick to defend the back’s character.
“Sonny Bill Williams came back on a relatively small contractual situation compared with what he could have got in Europe,” he said.
“He only got probably about 25% of what he could have got in Europe so I think it is the complete opposite of a mercenary. He has a dream of becoming an All Black and he is on the first step of that dream. He now has to play to a high standard to remain an All Black and he will be hoping to play in the Rugby World Cup next year.
“This is a one-off situation really, I can’t remember a similar situation where it has happened. He has played a couple of years in France and played in European Cup so he has had a wee bit of experience in rugby and has come back to fulfil his dream.
“I have the utmost respect for the guy. He is a very unselfish rugby player on the field and he has made a big impression in the Canterbury province and with the Canterbury teams and the players. So he is a very popular player and very unselfish, mercenary would be the last thing that I would say about him.”
New Zealand take on England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales after facing the Wallabies. And despite an impressive year to date, Henry rejected the suggestion the All Blacks had peaked to early with next year’s World Cup in mind.
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