Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues captaincy a test for Williams

Ali Williams is comfortable making his opinions known on the field and off of it. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ali Williams is comfortable making his opinions known on the field and off of it. Photo / Greg Bowker

From comedian to elder statesman to name but two, Ali Williams has played many roles during his rugby career, but the Blues captaincy will test his patience like no other.

Williams doesn't do humdrum; he doesn't like playing the media game and speaking in platitudes week in and week out, but that's something he will have to quickly get used to as the player's representative for Sir John Kirwan's brave new world.

Sometimes Williams can be engaging and witty in front of the media, but sometimes his impatience is obvious. His double act with All Blacks' teammate Sonny Bill Williams in front of the world's press at last year's World Cup - when the pair decided to answer questions on behalf of the other - was awkward at best, disrespectful and embarrassing at worst.

It appears the 31-year-old lock is willing to shoulder his new responsibilities, however. The target of critics after his selection for the All Blacks' end of year tour following his mediocre form for the Blues, he was honest and forthright when speaking about his opportunity ahead of the Italy test.

Williams acknowledged the challenge his new role at the Blues represents when saying: "It's an extremely tough job and I respect that. There have been many great leaders of this team before me and my job, along with the team, is to strengthen the strong traditions that the Blues have."

He is clearly comfortable making his opinions known. Williams is an advisor on the Nottingham Rugby Club's board after playing for the English outfit last year during his recovery from his latest Achilles injury.

Kirwan conceded he has made a big call. "I think it's an incredibly important time for Ali Williams," he said.

"He's a 77-test veteran who has been a big part of the Blues. He's had some interesting experiences in the past but he really cares about this place and I believe he's the right man to lead this team. It's a great challenge for him and one I'm sure he'll relish."

Kirwan's hand was forced by Keven Mealamu's decision to take an extended break and forego the captaincy. Flanker Luke Braid captained the Blues under Pat Lam this year when hooker Mealamu was unavailable, but the strain of the almost weekly defeats began to tell on the 24-year-old, who reached greater heights as a player last year.

Apart from Braid, few others within the inexperienced team could be considered captaincy material. The only other contender would have been Tom McCartney, a 27-year-old about to play his sixth season at the Blues and now the team's first-choice loosehead prop following Tony Woodcock's departure to the Highlanders.

Williams has had a tough run with injuries during his career, and Kirwan will be hoping his Achilles and knee problems aren't an issue given his other top-flight lock, Anthony Boric, is returning following neck surgery. There are still question marks about how Boric will cope physically and mentally from his injury and long lay-off.

Kirwan said Williams was ready to prove his doubters wrong.

"He's had a bad run of injuries but I think he's ready for this because he's had a bad run and some people think he's finished. I don't believe that, and neither does he.

"I think he's got a heck of a lot to offer this franchise. He's a world class lock with the ability to lead a team, and I'm extremely enthusiastic and positive about this decision."

- APNZ

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