Williams feels the best is yet to come
Scotland v New Zealand:There is not much Ali Williams has not done as an All Black. He has won a World Cup and scored a couple of tries in a series win over the British Lions. In a decade he’s played 75 Tests and, but for injuries, it could have been at least 120. He can even remember what it is like to lose to England at Twickenham.
That was 10 years ago and Williams was making his debut during the first of four autumn visits to the Northern Hemisphere. Most of his immediate adversaries that day – Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Martin Johnson and Neil Back – have long left the playing field and you guess that anyone less determined than Williams would have gone the same way.
The last time he was in England he was playing for Nottingham in a do-or-die attempt to put a seemingly endless series of hamstring operations behind him and kickstart a campaign to make the All Black squad for the 2011 World Cup. He did. After a three-year gap in his Test career, he played in all seven games, including the final victory against France.
Tomorrow at Murrayfield he starts only his third game against Scotland on the bench having overcome a knee injury which meant he missed the entire Rugby Championship. If everything goes to plan Williams should be on the pitch in Rome from the off next Saturday.
Tomorrow, however, a new generation of All Blacks get their first taste of Northern Hemisphere rugby as they build towards the 2015 world cup in England and the attempt to hold on to their world crown.
As an idea of where those preparations stand, Steve Hansen yesterday announced a team with 10 changes from the side that completed the Rugby Championship. The starting XV still have 556 caps between them, with another 267 on the bench. In Williams’s view it’s an ideal place from which to push on: “There’s some extremely good new talent – guys that aren’t afraid of failure, almost,” he says. “They aren’t afraid to give it a crack. There are no boundaries. No limits. It’s exactly what we all need.”
Best All Blacks yet
Williams believes the squad, which is undefeated in 2012, has another 20 per cent yet to give and he agrees with Sean Fitzpatrick they could be the best All Blacks yet. “I strongly believe that,” says Williams. “I believe we are getting a nice mix. You have guys who have been there for a while, guys who have been there for a lot longer than a while and then you have the new group that just wants to play.”
Tomorrow afternoon we will see a smattering of those new guys when Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison form a new centre partnership and the two rookies in the 32-strong party, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Dane Coles, leave the bench as the All Blacks look to continue their 107-year record of being undefeated by the Scots.
But what of Williams? When Hansen announced the 31-year-old would be touring the news was received with less than universal acclaim. However, the selection panel had been unanimous and Hansen asked Williams to address the team after arriving in Edinburgh.
“It wasn’t so much about what being an All Black is all about because the guys know that. It’s more what it means to be back here and the flip side that when you lose it, you miss it more. It means a lot to me,” says Williams, who intends to push his Test career as far as it will go.
As far as 2015? “Who knows. I’m just playing week by week and enjoying it.”