Sonny Bill Williams: New Zealand's humble superstar facing the Lions

Sonny Bill Williams
Williams has made 20 Test starts for the All Blacks

Few sportsmen have got close to matching Sonny Bill Williams' achievements; a double World Cup winner with the All Blacks, a Super Rugby champion with the Chiefs, NRL titles with the Roosters, not to mention success on the World Sevens circuit, an Olympics appearance, and a New Zealand heavyweight boxing belt in his spare time.

But as he plots to add a Test victory over the Lions to his unparalleled CV, Williams remains "humble as hell and one of the bros," according to his team-mates.

Sonny Bill Williams
Williams won the NRL Grand Final with Sydney Roosters in 2013

On Wednesday, Williams lines up for the Blues against the British and Irish Lions, as the Auckland-based franchise look to launch a pre-emptive strike before the Test series.

For Williams, a devout Muslim, the game comes in the middle of Ramadan, with the 31-year-old fasting for up to 10 hours a day.

"We're lucky that we only fast for nine to 10 hours in this part of the world because of the daylight," says the 33-times capped All Black.

"I find the fasting easiest with footy-based training, and I just push back the weights until I break the fast. The first week of fasting is the toughest and then after that you start to get used to it."

Sonny Bill Williams
Williams is father to Imaan, born in 2014, and Aisha, born in December

Speaking to Williams and a number of his team-mates and friends, it is clear his religion underpins his character.

The New Zealand Rugby Union recently allowed a "conscientious objection" to Williams wearing certain sponsors logos, as he objects to the marketing of banks, alcohol and gambling companies because of his beliefs.

"He's really religious and he sticks by it. We support him wholeheartedly, and his choices off the field," says Blues number eight Steven Luatua, who is on his way to Bristol next season.

"The way he stands up for his convictions and what he believes in, a lot of us could learn from that, and a lot of us feed off him.

"I do believe religion really helps with the rigour and discipline of succeeding in sport. For a lot of us from religious backgrounds, we've got to this point because of our faith, because of our beliefs.

"So for him to display that on an international stage, to display who he is, not change for anyone, I think that's all credit to him."

Williams
Williams attending Eid prayers in Auckland in September

Williams' dedication and commitment to his craft - whatever it may be - is a recurring theme, but his faith enables him to keep a balanced perspective on life, according to Blues wing Matt Duffie.

"At times rugby players can get quite caught up in the rugby fishbowl," says Duffie. "But his experience, faith and family means he can keep things in perspective. That doesn't take away the fact he is out there trying to win everything, because he's very competitive, but [keeping perspective] is one of his great qualities."

However, Williams remains the ultimate competitor, and after his Rio Olympics Sevens experience ended in long-term injury, he is on his way back to top form and fitness, and in the frame to start in the centres against the Lions come the Test series.

Sonny Bill Williams
Williams won the WBA international heavyweight title by beating South African Francois Botha in February 2013

"The one-percenters are eye-opening," says Blues full-back Michael Collins. "The way he looks after his body and does his prep and his homework, he's pretty diligent in all he does."

"Off the field he's real professional and the boys feed off that," says Luatua. "At the same time he's approachable and easy to talk to, and I think that's made his transitions between clubs and sports real easy. All round he's just a good dude."

His head coach Tana Umaga will testify to that, after Williams moved to defuse news conference talk of the infamous spear tackle that ended Brian O'Driscoll's tour the last time the Lions were in New Zealand in 2005. But, as prop Charlie Faumuina, explains, Williams has a mischievous side.

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"He's a bit of a trouble maker," Faumuina says.

"We've got a thing where if you lose things they get auctioned off, but Sonny Bill tries to steal things to get them auctioned off. I lost my tickets that I got handed to me just today, and I've had to pay 100 bucks to get them back. He must have handed them in to the auctioneer. I just left them there to get a drink of water and I came back and they were gone."

Faumuina is one of eight New Zealand internationals in the Blues starting XV on Wednesday evening, but all eyes will be on Williams. It's something his team-mates are used to, but don't begrudge.

"Around here it's all about Sonny," adds another of the All Blacks, scrum-half Augustine Pulu.

"But he's a good man, bro. I think that's why it's so easy. He's just a caring person."

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