AUCKLAND, New Zealand — After being immersed in the aftermath of tragedy for two weeks, Sonny Bill Williams came off the bench to create a try which helped seal a 24-9 win by the 14-man Blues over the Stormers in Super Rugby on Saturday.
Williams, who converted to Islam a decade ago, has spent the past two weeks in Christchurch fundraising and consoling members of the city’s Islamic community after the March 15 shooting at two mosques which left 50 dead.
He attended the national memorial service in Christchurch on Friday and then, after missing last weekend’s match against the Highlanders, came back to take his place again in the Blues team that faced the Cape Town-based Stormers.
Williams took the field in the second half as a replacement at centre for Ma’a Nonu and made an immediate impact on a tight match which had been locked at 10-9 in the Blue’s favour for 16 minutes.
He crashed onto a pass in midfield in the 62nd, kept his feet as he broke through two tackles, then handed off to flyhalf Otere Black who scored under the posts and converted a try that gave the Blues an eight-point buffer.
Winger Rieko Ioane made the game safer with a late try, his seventh in his last three games.
Blues winger Tanielu Tele’a scored a first-half try but was sent off in the second half for a dangerous tackle.
The Blues held on with 14 men for 11 minutes to post three wins in a row for the first time in four years.
“It was pretty tough,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. “We knew the challenge we had in front of us with a strong, physical Stormers forward pack and I’m just proud of the way the boys matched that.”
The Stormers had scored nine tries this season before Saturday’s match and six of those came from lineout drives. They were expected to use that tactic again but caught the Blues by surprise when they ignored the set piece and sought to move the ball by hand.
However, they lacked a finishing touch.
“We started off brilliantly and played some good rugby but you have no show if you can’t score the points,” Stormers captain Siya Kolisi said.
Later, flyhalf Quade Cooper returned to haunt his former team, the Queensland Reds, kicking two penalties and creating two tries for winger Jack Maddocks as the Melbourne Rebels won 32-13 at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
Cooper played 118 Super Rugby matches for Queensland until 2017 when new Reds coach Brad Thorn cut him from his squad. The former Wallabies No. 10 made a comeback through club rugby before finding a new home at the Rebels.
Cooper took only two minutes to make a mark on Saturday’s match with a penalty. He created a try for Maddocks with a pinpoint cross-field kick which gave the Rebels an 11-6 lead at halftime.
In the second half Cooper instigated a kick and chase from a dropped Reds pass which made Maddocks’ second try, taking the winger to the top of the Super Rugby try-scorers’ list this season.
The Reds couldn’t keep their hands on the ball until the 74th when they strung together phases and scored through prop Taniela Tupou. They also conceded too many easy yards around the fringes, including a last-minute try to Rob Leota which Cooper converted to finish with 12 points.