Saturday 20 January 2018

Steven Luatua hails Sonny Bill Williams' positive display of Islam: 'I think that's important in these times'

Sonny Bill Williams of the Blues during a training session at Alexandra Park in Auckland today
Sonny Bill Williams of the Blues during a training session at Alexandra Park in Auckland today Newsdesk Newsdesk

Practising Muslim and All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill Williams has been hailed for showing the world the virtues of Islam amid trying modern times.

New Zealand centre Williams will face the British and Irish Lions in Auckland Blues colours on Wednesday provided he shakes off a knee complaint - and team-mate Steven Luatua praised the 31-year-old for blooming into a genuine role model.

Williams ranks among the globe's supreme sporting characters, crossing codes from top-level rugby league to help the All Blacks claim consecutive World Cups, while also finding time to land a heavyweight boxing title.

The Auckland-born superstar is now back on home turf with Tana Umaga's Blues, and Luatua believes Williams' positive image of Islam is vital amid a climate of terrorist misappropriation.

"He displays his faith to the world, on an international stage, and I think that's important in these times," said Luatua of Williams and his devotion to Islam.

"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.

"I'm a Christian man, I have my flaws, but I guess that's the whole point of asking for forgiveness.

"I do believe religion really helps with the rigour and discipline of succeeding in sport. Knowing that my time here is limited, knowing that my walk of life is, I guess a product of God's will, that just makes my journey, what I do here, it makes me a lot more grateful.

"It's a gift to do what we do, and I'm sure Sonny's in the same boat."

Williams expects to ease past his knee issue and face Warren Gatland's Lions at Eden Park.

The 33-cap All Black is likely to prove a scourge of the Lions' bid for a first Test series win in New Zealand since 1971.

But he is also currently fasting for Ramadan - although he revealed those religious commitments do not hinder his rugby preparation, instead he simply rearranges his daily schedule.

Asked how Ramadan would alter the preparations for his day job, Williams said: "Not too much to be honest, we've got great coaching staff and trainers so I've worked pretty closely with them.

"I find the fasting easier with footy-based training, and I just push back the weights until I break the fast.

"We're lucky that we only fast for nine to 10 hours in this part of the world because of the daylight."

Asked if that religious rigour helps sharpen his rugby focus, Williams continued: "Yes, it does. The first week of fasting is the toughest and then after that you start to get used to it."

Back-row forward Luatua will join Bristol next season, reuniting with his first Blues coach Pat Lam.

The 26-year-old thanked Lam for the opportunity for a new rugby experience, before revealing his huge excitement at facing the Lions on Wednesday.

"Pat had a pretty big influence on my decision to move to Bristol," said Luatua, who has won 13 caps for the All Blacks.

"He was the first coach to pick me for a Super Rugby team, when he was coach of the Blues and I made my debut here. So I'm very grateful to him for that.

"And I think I'm at a time of my life where I can experience some different things, some differences in rugby, and I'm definitely looking forward to it.

"I think that's pretty cool to be honest, the fact he's overseas but still keeping an eye out.

"Our paths have come across again. I'm looking for a change in my life and I came across a good opportunity, and things aligned, so it's all good.

"I think the Lions is as big a deal down here as it is in the northern hemisphere. We understand the concept - the best of the best from four nations.

"So to play against them, to make the team, it's a huge honour. It's a massive game for us."

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