Low-key Japan debut for Sonny Bill Williams
New Zealand superstar Sonny Bill Williams made a low-key playing debut in Japanese rugby Sunday as his Panasonic Wild Knights bowed 22-25 to NTT Communications Shining Arcs.
The former All Black played the full 80 minutes without scoring as Panasonic ran out of steam after chalking up their third try for a 22-3 lead in the 43 minute in the second round of the 2012-2013 Top League season.
In the 22th minute, Williams assisted a try by Tadasuke Nishihara with a one-handed pass despite an NTT tackle. But another of his passes was intercepted with 11 minutes to go helping Hiraku Tomoigawa cross the line for NTT’s decisive third try.
The 27-year-old inside centre left his national side to pursue more lucrative opportunities and is reported to be earning $1.2 million for his 12-game deal in Japan, though he was rested in Panasonic’s season opener when they downed Ricoh Black Rams 44-13 in Tokyo.
“Even though we had a loss it was good to see the big uso,” Williams tweeted after the match, referring to Samoan international Alesana Tuilagi who currently plays for NTT on a short contract.
Uso means brother in Samoan.
In the 44th minute, the 31-year-old Tuilagi ran in the second of NTT’s three second-half tries as tail wind apparently helped his side. He was later named the man of the match.
Sunday’s match at the Tsukisamu ground in Sapporo, the main city on the northern island of Hokkaido, was watched by just 2,200 spectators.
There was no live television coverage of the match as rugby remains outside of Japan’s big-time sports although the country is to host the rugby World Cup in 2019.
Williams, who helped the All Blacks win the World Cup last year, arrived in Japan on August 30 just days after they beat Australia to secure the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup.
He also powered Waikato Chiefs to win the Super rugby title last month.
After his short stint in Japan, Williams, who is also the heavyweight boxing champion of New Zealand, is due to return to Australia’s National Rugby League next year, his old stomping ground.
The Wild Knights, who lost to Suntory Sungoliath in the final of both the Top League and the All-Japan championship last season, stood fifth in the Top League table with six points.
The Sungoliath topped the table with 10 points, including bonus points, from two straight wins.