All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams brushed off reports about a potential return to Toulon as New Zealand survived a scare in their Hong Kong Sevens opener yesterday.
The serial code-hopper and Olympic hopeful was not at his best as he made his comeback from a knee injury, and was substituted in the second half as the Kiwis scraped to a 19-17 win over France.
New Zealand weren’t the only team to overcome challenges on day one as defending champions and series leaders Fiji needed a last-gasp converted winner to beat Canada by the same scoreline.
Australia fielded colourful winger Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, another player who is hoping to make the Rio Olympics, in their 28-0 win over Argentina, and England upset South Africa 14-21.
Williams, 30, has been out with a knee injury and it showed when he was left groping in thin air as Six Nations winger Virimi Vakatawa scored, and then fumbled a catch from the restart.
New Zealand found themselves 17-0 down in the first half but they recovered to win thanks to a try from captain Tim Mikkelson, who was hurt in a Vakatawa tackle after he went over the line.
“The lungs were blowing and the legs struggled a bit but just like with anything, I believe I just need to stay out there and get as much game-time and experience as I can and then I’ll see the improvements,” Williams said.
“I’m just happy the boys stuck solid and we stayed composed in the second half. It just shows how vital set-pieces (are), those kick-offs don’t go our way and then we’re down 17-0.”
Asked to comment on reports about a possible return to French club Toulon after the Olympics, Williams said: “You know just as much as I do. All I know is I’m just trying to make the Olympics.”
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said he was pleased with how his players kept their composure despite struggling for possession in the first half.
“France played very, very well. It’s all about possession, we couldn’t get it in the first half, couldn’t get the kick-offs and they punished us,” he said.
Fiji were in serious trouble at 5-17 down with two minutes to go, before tries from Savenaca Rawaca and Semi Kunatani—helped by two Canada yellow cards—and Osea Kolinisau’s vital conversion got them a 19-17 win.
Late call-up Cummins was left scoreless for Australia after he ran half the field for what looked like a dazzling try, until he dropped the ball on the line.
New England Patriots Super Bowl-winner Nate Ebner, a late inclusion for the United States who also played this week’s Hong Kong 10s, stayed on the bench as the Americans beat Portugal 21-5.
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