As Sonny Bill Williams arrives in Christchurch to mourn in the wake of the mosque shootings just over a week ago, the full toll the March 15 attacks had on the rugby great has been revealed.
Williams, who has taken leave from the Blues to spend time with the city’s Muslim community, said the way New Zealand had responded to the tragedy was inspiring.
“It’s beautiful,” Williams told TVNZ when he arrived.
“I think we have to be gentle at the start because there are a lot of mixed emotions.
“You have just got to do what is best for the victims, but then moving forward I think something beautiful is going to happen.”
Williams expressed his heartbreak in the wake of the shootings with a widely-shared, very moving video, in which the dual-code star was moved to tears.
An unidentified friend of Williams’ told The Daily Mail he had “lost friends” in the shooting.
“Sonny Bill lost friends at the Al Noor Mosque last Friday,” they said.
“That was where he used to go when he lived in Christchurch.
“He prayed there regularly and got to know a lot of people.
“Sadly, some of those people were killed and injured in the massacre.”
The 33-year-old announced he would not play against the Highlanders last week.
Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry said allowing Williams to visit Christchurch was a “simple decision”.
“We were going to ask Sonny whether he would like to go so we were all in agreement, he said.
“It was a pretty short conversation. We all know how hard he took it — it was a pretty simple decision to make.
“I think it’s admirable, really.
“Sonny has gone down to aid and support his faith and the people he represents. It also lines up with an All Black break.
“It’s been a torrid old couple of weeks for everyone and we’ll just do what we can to put in a performance on the field, and we’ve trained accordingly — we’ve been pretty good this week.”