Nick Williams faces Ulster investigation
Award-winning Kiwi believed not to have received permission for trip home last week
Nick Williams is not training with Ulster and will not be available for selection pending the inquiry result.
Williams is now unavailable for Friday night’s Pro 12 match against Newport and is the subject of an internal investigation by Ulster, new territory for the province.
“He’s in Belfast,” said Ulster coach Mark Anscombe yesterday. And when asked if he was training with Ulster, the coach said “no”. That is as much as he would say on the subject of Williams, with Ulster subsequently releasing a statement explaining its most consistent performer last season is the subject of an “internal investigation into an alleged unauthorised absence.”
Williams was in New Zealand last week and missed Ulster’s away match at the weekend against Treviso. It is believed the player did not have permission from Ulster to make the journey home.
To compound matters, tighthead prop John Afoa also returned to New Zealand due to a family bereavement. Afoa, who moves to Gloucester on a three- year deal at the end of the season, has returned home a number of times over the last 12 months,
“He’ll be back for the Scarlets,” said Anscombe of Afoa. Ulster meet Scarlets in Ravenhill on March 14th.
Hanging in balance
Depending on how the words are parsed Williams position hangs in the balance or he is due for a large fine and a dressing down. The feeling is he will have a hearing, as the matter is being treated seriously.
It was Kiwi coach Anscombe who brought Williams to Ulster and effectively turned the backrow into a match-winning player for the province after Munster had cut him loose in 2010. Williams, who was a junior All Black, played just 19 times over two seasons in Limerick, before moving on to the relative obscurity of Aironi in Italy.
In June 2012 the player signed a two-year deal with Ulster, before transforming his career and completing a remarkable double by winning the Irupa Player of the Year award as well as the Pro12 Player of the Year accolade. He was only the second overseas winner of the Irupa award in 11 seasons.
Ulster Rugby yesterday said they would make no further comment on the issue at this time.
There was more positive news about Tommy Bowe, who trained with the Ulster squad. Like Irish coach Joe Schmidt, Anscombe suggested Bowe’s return from injury would not be this week but remained open- minded. The Irish winger has not played since he injured his groin at the end of October.
Not ruled in or out
“We’re looking at him. He’s not ruled in or stabbed out at this stage. He trained with us this morning [Wednesday] and the key with these guys is the level of training they do and how they react the day after,” said Anscombe.
“It’s been a while since Tommy has been out, and with what is coming ahead of us we want to make sure we’re not rushing it, and when he is ready to play he is confident to go out and play. He is doing some contact and he’s building up nicely.”
Anscombe was also hopeful that his Irish bench players Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson would be available to him. The two, who are now short of game time, also trained with the squad yesterday before travelling to the Irish training camp, which has moved from Kildare to a base in Belfast this week.
“They trained with us today then they went early to meet up with Ireland. I read Sexton and O’Mahony have injuries, so if Jackson and Henderson are needed against Italy you’d want them to have a game under their belts so they can go with confidence going into that game.”