Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Williams has opportunity to save himself

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Had his body behaved, Williams would have been approaching 100 caps for his country by now but the past four seasons have been an erratic patch for him. Photo / Getty
Had his body behaved, Williams would have been approaching 100 caps for his country by now but the past four seasons have been an erratic patch for him. Photo / Getty

Watching him in that latest series was as painful as watching the Blues. At his best, Ali Williams was a world-class international lock. He brought an array of skills to his All Black work which put him in the top layer of those who have worn the famous uniform.

His athleticism and core work nudged him towards those like Colin Meads, Andy Haden, Peter Whiting, Sam Strachan, Alan Stewart, Gary Whetton, Ian Jones, Robin Brooke and Brad Thorn who honoured the second row.

Had his body behaved, Williams would have been approaching 100 caps for his country by now but the past four seasons have been an erratic patch for him. Achilles injuries and other leg problems have blighted his work since 2009 and while he returned for the World Cup triumph, he was well adrift of Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock.

For much of the Super 15 his work was ineffective but All Black coach Steve Hansen backed himself and the environment to revive Williams' talents.

The problem was Williams' knee did not oblige and he peeled away for surgery after two substitute appearances against Ireland. That done and with minimal ITM Cup work as a WoF, Williams got his boarding pass once again for this All Blacks tour of Europe.

His fortune remained that Craig Clarke, Jarrad Hoeata and Jason Eaton did not quite fit the bill as an alternative.

Strong, useful and workmanlike, they may not have much more to their game so Williams got one more dig until some younger men demanded his place.

Fortune, the coaches' hopes and a pattern that Williams' best work came in the All Blacks, helped the 31-year-old.

It did, past tense. We have not seen it for some time now and unless he shows something special on this trip, apart from his tuition sessions with his younger rivals, Williams should be heading for Super rugby only.

Watching him in that latest series was as painful as watching the Blues. He had no snap to his game, even the lineouts were patchy and he swanned around away from the rucks and mauls.

All Black staffer Mick Byrne is in charge of the Blues forwards next season so he will get a firm grip on Williams' physical profile on this tour of Europe.

If the Blues adhere to some of the All Black ethos, they will want forwards to get them over the gain line rather than fluff about getting to breakdowns or waiting on the wings.

Williams has been given a sporting life raft on this All Black tour. It remains to be seen whether he can climb on board.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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