Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Williams makes convincing comeback

It's not as if Ali Williams played well enough to stop the world from spinning on its axis, but he did grind his way through a convincing 50 minutes at the Stadio Olimpico that suggested there is life yet in the old dog.

Seen largely as a loyalty pick for this tour - almost a sympathy ticket for a once-great warrior - the pressure has been on Williams to prove that's not the case. And that external heat is nothing compared with his own expectations. Williams, for all his ability to play the clown and appear indifferent to the public mood, has zero desire to be a passenger All Black.

He wants to prove he's in Europe on merit. His journey back to that status began in Rome where he made tackles, cleaned out rucks, carried for direct yards and even stole a lineout for good measure.

He didn't wind the clock back to 2008 and appear to once again be that elastic, rangy super athlete of old. But it was about as good as Williams has delivered all year.

"I thought I did everything I wanted to do," said Williams. "For me I have to keep it simple and then other things will open up. That's all I want to concentrate on - doing my role and I was generally pretty happy.

"At the end of the day it is about fitting into a pattern. I am not that guy who is going to run 40m-50m - it's not that I can't, it's because it's not what they want from me. It is about me putting the team first and doing the crap work and to be honest, I am starting to enjoy it now. It wasn't a strength of my game before but it is a mindset I have now."

Williams' age and repeated injuries have ruled out the prospect of him being the roaming ball-player he was in his prime. The All Blacks need him to be tighter, physically dominant and commanding: a kind of taller, skinnier Brad Thorn - which is why Williams was wearing the number four jersey.

A big part of his new role is to add grist to the scrummaging, something which he appeared to do. Martin Castrogiovanni had the white flag up a few times and the All Blacks felt they put the record straight on the set-piece battle after the shenanigans in Milan the last time these sides met.

"The one area that was really pleasing was the scrum which I thought went pretty well," says Williams. "The combination between Charlie [tight-head prop Faumuina] went well. He's really improved and it has become a pleasure to scrum behind him."

- NZ Herald

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