Be afraid: Shag ices SBW’s staunchest critics

Steve Deane's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column

There’s a distinct chill in the air in Europe right now, as the clouds gather, the birds fly south and naughty All Blacks beat-writers huddle in their hotels pondering their fate.

Shag has put them on notice. Outlandish criticism of his adopted lovechild Sonny Bill Williams is unjustified, and won’t be tolerated.

“I reckon you guys just need to be a little bit careful how hard you are on him here,” Steve Hansen said while channelling Vladimir Putin, and Fred Dagg.

Hansen is clearly sick of the shit constantly being flung at his second five-eighths, a shy and retiring type with limited ability to cope with public opprobrium.

Bless them, though, the Kiwi press pack was unbowed, even under the pain of a threat that could well see them sent to Coventry – a punishment that would make it damn awkward to cover the next match in Lyon.

New Zealand Herald’s Liam Napier didn’t hold back in this withering assessment.

“It is just Sonny Bill Williams' luck that the majority will only remember his yellow card, and nothing else he did in this match,” thundered Napier.

“The shame of Williams' error was, prior to that, he had some brilliant touches. He laid on Ryan Crotty's try with a superb grubber. As he has all season, his defence was world-class. And he carried strongly on a number of occasions too.”

Take that, loser.

If Napier was unfailingly strident, his former Fairfax colleague Mark Hinton was dead set out of order, describing Williams’ highly understandable, selfless decision to hand France a penalty try and sinbin himself to level things up in a contest that was so one-sided it bordered on embarrassing, as “just plain crazy”.

“Williams had 10 minutes in the sin-bin to contemplate his brainfade when he batted a Belleau crosskick dead ingoal – a play that is legal in his old code, but, sadly, not in rugby union,” opined the merciless Hinton. “He was unlucky, though, to concede the penalty try when the TMO ruled Yoann Huget would have scored but for Williams' action. Dubious logic, at best.

“The All Blacks did well to limit the damage to 10 points in their second five's absence, especially with French halfback Dupont by this stage running amok, and they at least finished the contest on a positive note with the final try of the night to put the icing on an 11th straight victory over the French.”

The slaughter of the innocents didn’t end there, with even Newshub burying the blade deep within SBW’s pea-sized brain.

“Four New Zealand tries in the compelling first half was followed by a messy second 40 minutes, highlighted by a bizarre play from second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams which resulted in a yellow card and penalty try,” a Newshub scribe who wisely decided not risk the wrath of Hansen by putting their by-line on the article, wrote.

“With little pressure on him, Williams deliberately batted a cross kick over the dead ball line. Such a play is allowed in Williams' former code, rugby league, but breaks rugby's laws and warranted a yellow card.”

In the face of such a cacophony of cynical, hurtful, overly personal and downright irresponsible journalism, Hansen really had no choice but to act.

His words said “be careful”, but his message was “be afraid”.

No more mutual belly scratching. No more cuddling under a duvet together on those cold northern nights.

Winter is here.

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