Sonny Bill Williams confirmed a switch to rugby sevens to chase his dream of being in the Olympics as he was yesterday named in the initial New Zealand sevens training squad for next year’s Rio Olympics.
The serial code-hopper has shifted between rival rugby codes, league and union, in recent years as well as dabbling in boxing, where he has won all six of his heavyweight bouts.
The 30-year-old is currently with the All Blacks and in line to make their squad for the Rugby World Cup, starting in England next month, after being part of New Zealand’s World Cup winning side four years ago.
However, Williams said he rated becoming an Olympian as the greatest feat an athlete could achieve and said he would not play Super XV rugby next year as he would focus fully on getting to Rio.
“Going back in time, the best sportsmen ever have been Olympians. [Usain] Bolt, [Muhammad] Ali, the list goes on. It is just an amazing opportunity to become one of those,” he said.
“As a rugby player you strive to be an All Black, win a World Cup, win a Super XV title... I am lucky enough to have achieved that, but as a sportsman, most would like to go to the Olympics and I have not achieved that,” he added.
New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens said Williams would adjust easily to the faster game.
“Sonny Bill Williams is a great athlete and has shown he can adapt very easily to the demands of rugby. I see him adjusting very well to the fast pace of sevens,” Tietjens said. “He will be a great attacking weapon with his speed, strength and uncanny ability to offload.”
Former sevens star Liam Messam is the only other current All Black in the 16-man sevens squad after Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett decided to remain focused on the longer version of the game. Prominent Super XV rugby players Akira Ioane, Ben Lam and Ardie Savea are also in the squad in which Scott Curry was named as captain after long-serving leader D.J. Forbes stepped down from the role to focus on his play.
The IRB World Sevens series begins in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December.
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