International Rugby, Opinions

Sonny Bill dazed but still dazzling

Sonny Bill Williams proved prolific for a man believed to have been knocked out two minutes into the All Blacks 54-34 Bledisloe Cup/Rugby Championship win against Australia.

Video replays show Williams taking a heavy blow to the head in making a tackle on Wallabies lock Rory Arnold, which is then followed with two of his teammates falling on Williams’s head.

Williams gets up and looks dazed but in the next 90 seconds makes two telling tackles. The Australian commentator and former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns remarks on the bravery of Williams in making those two tackles, describing the All Blacks midfielder as appearing knocked cold after making the earlier tackle.

Only Williams will know exactly how he felt or what he saw or what he remembers from the first 20 minutes of the Test but his performance was among the most active among the All Blacks. Williams played for 80 minutes, scored a try, passed the ball nine times, carried the ball 10 times, made two line breaks, beat three defenders, made four offloads in the tackle and was credited with making 45 running metres. Defensively, his 11 tackles were the most among the All Blacks backs and forced one turnover.

The statistics also don’t tell the full Sonny Bill Williams impact in how his offloads in the tackle and resulting pass often beats two to three defenders or how his off-the-ball running takes two or three defenders out of the game. A point in case was Ryan Crotty’s second try when three Wallabies rushed to shut down Williams as a possible receiver and Crotty walked through unmarked.

Williams, post the match, has been cleared of concussion and is available to play against the Wallabies on Saturday.

Williams, who fought through a wicked last minute in beating South African veteran Francois Botha in a heavweight boxing fight a few years ago, clearly can take a blow to the jaw/temple. He is a warrior who has often shown the ability to survive those dark corridors of a contact and physically confrontational sport. He did so in League, boxing and in Union.

The fuss, though, is understandable because it is made more in the name of player safety than any attack on Williams, and that’s why Sanzaar is seeking clarity in how a television commentator could be so vocal about Williams’s apparent state after making the tackle, but not one medical expert involved with the Test noticed.

World Rugby’s attitude towards concussion is aimed at protecting the player and is about player welfare in the short and long term.

World Rugby recently released a statistic that showed that in 2012 just 42 percent of concussions were identified and treated correctly across 20-plus international competitions. In 2017, 88 percent of player concussions have been identified and correctly treated.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said that Williams had not been pushed at training on Tuesday as a precaution, but presented with no symptoms.

‘Sonny took a knock in the weekend but he was symptom-free,’ Foster told reporters in Dunedin.

‘The doc has done what he always does when there is a suspicion of something. He was held back a little bit today so we could make sure he was absolutely clear but the signs are really positive.”

Williams appeared lucid in a television interview after Saturday’s game and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the following day that no one had noticed him suffering any adverse effects from the collisions.

‘I think everyone missed it to be fair, otherwise the HIA doc would have taken him off,’ Hansen told reporters referring to the Head Injury Assessment personnel.

‘Our doc certainly would have taken him off.’

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