Sonny Bill Williams is showing the kind of “hunger” that could sink the British and Irish Lions in the All Blacks Test series, according to Tana Umaga.
Williams’ devastating break and offload sent Ihaia West storming through the Lions’ defence as the Blues toppled the tourists 22-16 at Eden Park on Wednesday.
Former All Blacks captain Umaga drove New Zealand to a three-nil series win over the Lions in 2005 - and now he believes powerful centre Williams could play a similarly prevalent role in the fast-approaching 2017 Tests.
“Well Sonny Bill’s obviously still coming back from 18 months away from the game, and he’s had a stop-start season for us,” said Blues coach Umaga.
“Every week he’s got better and better. He keeps showing the hunger that he’s got to keep playing at the top level.
“That’s obviously very good for us, and it’s very pleasing for the All Blacks as well.
“Again it’s a conundrum for them to start to work out who they will pick in that midfield area.”
The All Blacks name their squad for the warm-up Test against Samoa and the Lions series on Thursday, and head coach Steve Hansen will be delighted by the timing of Williams’ drive towards top form.
Fine displays from Steven Luatua and Rieko Ioane could also force Hansen to include the Blues duo in his squad on Thursday, but Umaga said his players should for now toast their win over the Lions.
“Well it’s great news for a lot of our boys to play well, and I don’t want really to single out individuals, it’s great for a group of young players who are improving,” said Umaga.
“It’s always big to play the Lions and to gain a win is special too.”
All Blacks centre Williams however issued a note of caution against New Zealand underestimating Gatland’s Lions.
The three-Test series starts on June 24, and Williams expects the tourists to pose a big attacking threat by then.
“They are really strong in set piece, but don’t get it twisted, they have got some dangerous players out wide,” Williams told Sky Sports.
“The reason why this is so special is because of how young our squad is.
“After a season of ups and downs where the bounce didn’t go our way, but tonight it did.
“I’m happy for Tana and the coaches, and for how hard the young boys are working. This is a good way to top off the season.”