Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Rugby: Ali Williams keen to remain in black

All Blacks replacement lock Ali Williams is desperate to prise his beloved black jersey off the in-form youngsters for this weekend's second test against the Irish.

The 73-test veteran is a reluctant bench player and has rejected critics of his Super 15 form, saying he's playing well.

Williams, a second half substitute in the 42-10 drubbing of Ireland at Eden Park on Saturday, is working hard to convince new head coach Steve Hansen that he deserves a starting role.

"It's definitely a little different [coming off the bench]. I'm not settling into the roll, if that makes sense," Williams said.

"I love being out there, especially in this jersey, mate, it's just an incredible feeling."

Williams has been criticised for his lack of Blues form in the Super 15 rugby competition this year and many were surprised that he was selected for the Irish series.

Youngsters Brodie Retallick and Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock, now with 25 tests to his name, have usurped 31-year-old Williams in the starting XV, and coach Hansen could stick with them for this weekend.

But Williams said there was no hard feelings, and as one of the current squad's senior players, he was determined to pass on some of his tricks of the international trade.

"The day that this team becomes about individuals is the day this team will plummet."

Speaking at the team hotel in Christchurch today, the 2.02m forward was in philosophical mood.

"It's about passing on your knowledge, because holding your knowledge in is not powerful, sharing your knowledge is powerful.

"I respect the game, and I respect form. Everyone's making out that I'm playing badly, but I'm not playing that badly.

"But the reality is there's a young kid (Retallick) who's going bloody good, and there's Sam who's going bloody good as well, and they've earned it. You've got to credit that, and if it wasn't like that, you'd have to start thinking, 'why?'

"I respect it, and it's up to me to come off the bench, when I do come off the bench, and say to Shag (Hansen), 'Hold on, why am I in this jersey when I deserve to be starting?'

"Just because I've played more games than them, doesn't mean that I hold some fact that I don't pass knowledge on, that they have to earn it, is bulls***.

"Where I can help, I do. End goal for me, and this team, is to win. I couldn't care where I play, as long as I'm in the team and I'm helping it."

But Williams accepted that he didn't always carry such a mature outlook.

If he'd been told three years ago that he was benched, he would have said: "Mate, if I'm not starting then it's bulls*** ra ra ra.

"But that's what age does to you, and also ticking off a goal that you've wanted for a long time."

That goal was winning last year's World Cup.

He said that by "ticking that goal off" has meant a change in mindset for the "established players" and a change of goals.

With the arrival of an exciting bunch of young players, like hat-trick hero Julian Savea, as well as a new coaching staff, the older stars have been "a real boost", Williams said.

Williams said Hansen's transition from being an assistant to Sir Graham Henry for eight years to the man in charge has been a smooth one.

But he said Hansen has already put his stamp on the team.

"You can sit in the bus and it will take you somewhere, but if you're driving it, you send it where you want to go.

"With Shag there's obvious differences when he's the head coach. He's got a lot of faith in the boys but he also demands a lot, when required. If he doesn't get it, he's hard on you.

"I think that's really refreshing - talking the truth is what people need, rather than glossing over how you're going."


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