Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Williams tells of pressure to repay selectors

Ali Williams. Photo / Getty Images.
Ali Williams. Photo / Getty Images.

A controversial selection from the outset, Ali Williams has revealed to the international press that he was told by Steve Hansen to stand in front of his teammates and explain what it meant to be among them.

It was an interesting decision by All Blacks coach Hansen, who this week asked Williams to address the team along with new boys Dane Coles and Tawera Kerr-Barlow. Not one to lack confidence, Williams is likely to have spoken eloquently and emotionally about his opportunity at what is the twilight of his career.

"Shag got me to stand up and say what it means to be in this team. There were just a few of us he asked,'' Williams told the media in Edinburgh ahead Monday's (NZT) test against Scotland.

"I said `watching you guys over the Rugby Championship and the level you took the game to, especially the three locks, has inspired me to see if I can match that and if not better it'.

"In terms of my career I look at things differently now. For me it's about this week and only this week. In terms of looking to the future I no longer do that, I don't want to do that.

"I just want to enjoy the moment. If I look too far ahead I could fall over real quick.''

That is probably wise for 31-year-old Williams, who senses time is running out. Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano have leapt ahead of him on the locking pecking order and Sam Whitelock, who has just turned 24, has been the first-choice All Blacks lock since Brad Thorn departed last year.

Two serious Achilles injuries put the brakes on Williams' career just as he was about to cement himself as one of the best locks to have played for the All Blacks. An excellent lineout technician, he brought a new dimension to the position with his ball carrying ability and pace, yet he also had the bulk and mindset to engage in the physical stuff.

A knee injury which required surgery this year was another knock-back, and prompted many to think his days in an All Blacks jersey were numbered.

"There's always going to be talking points about my selection; good bad or indifferent,'' he said. "At the end of the day there are a group of guys who have put some faith in me. It's about me repaying that and adding value to a team I've been in for so long.

"I'd lie if I said I haven't been frustrated by how my career is going but it's about how I deal with that and how I come out the other side.

"I got pretty frustrated a while back,'' he said of the knee injury in the middle of the Ireland series. "To be honest it was probably the worst injury I've had because there's no big shinning light; there's no big World Cup to chase. It was about my passion and drive to get back in this jersey. That's what kept me going.''

How much game time Williams gets on this four-test tour remains to be seen - his big opportunity is likely to come in the match at Murrayfield or six days later against Italy in Rome.

Hansen wanted Williams, who has played 75 tests, in his 32-man squad because of his experience and has already thrust him into the spotlight. It was a challenge, which Williams appears to have passed. But that's not the end of it, he said.

"I'm aiming to get back to where I was.''

- APNZ

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