Bryan Williams
To be a made a Knights Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit

It was a poignant moment with his eldest daughter that confirmed to Bryan Williams that his international rugby career was over.

The All Blacks were returning from their 1978 tour of Britain and Ireland and Williams went to greet his wife, Leslie, and his daughter, who shied away from him.

"We'd been away for a couple of months ... and it breaks your heart. You know that's your daughter but she doesn't know you," Williams said. "I sort of decided after that that maybe my touring days were over.

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"We'd had our first child so I said to Leslie, 'well I've stopped playing international rugby, you'll see a lot more of me'.

"But of course I kept playing for Auckland, then once that finished I got into coaching and the rugby went on and on."

It's that love of the game that has seen the Ponsonby stalwart receive a knighthood for services to rugby in the New Year Honours, where he was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

After hanging up his boots on the international level in 1978 with 113 appearances for the All Blacks, Williams continued to play at regional and club levels, before moving into coaching and admin roles.

He recalled coaching alongside New Zealand Rugby president Maurice Trapp at Ponsonby, then Auckland B before the pair took the reins at Auckland.

They coached the side from 1987-91 to great successes and held the Ranfurly Shield throughout. The likes of John Kirwan, Grant Fox, Sean Fitzpatrick, Zinzan and Robin Brooke, and Michael Jones were among those he coached. "Some people might say it was an easy team to coach, and it probably was," Williams said.

Williams was the director of rugby at the Ponsonby club from 2000-15, during which the club won 10 of 11 championships from 2000-11. He was also the president of New Zealand Rugby from 2011-13 and the director of a rugby academy at Mt Albert Grammar School between 2001-12.

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Ponsonby and All Blacks wing Sir Bryan Williams poses in front of a picture of himself in his heyday. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Ponsonby and All Blacks wing Sir Bryan Williams poses in front of a picture of himself in his heyday. Photo / Jason Oxenham

More recently, Williams has been involved as a trustee with the New Zealand Rugby Foundation — an organisation set up to support "catastrophically injured" rugby players financially and emotionally, as well as advocate safe play in the sport.

"Getting involved to help the less fortunate members of our rugby family — that really appeals to me."

Since first stepping on to a pitch in Ponsonby in 1960, rugby has been a staple of Williams' life. However, when he was told about the honour he was set to receive, his first reaction was "why me"?

"You certainly don't covet those kinds of things. I was always someone who tried hard and always wanted to be the best I could be and I guess when you have that attitude, coupled with hopefully a bit of ability, you get recognised and that's the way it's happened for me, I'm pleased about that.

"I've had a chance for it to sink in now and I guess I'm feeling pretty chuffed about it."

Although he was awarded for his services to the sport, he believed rugby, specifically the Ponsonby club, had performed more of a service to him.

"It's a club that's molded me as a person. I first started playing rugby for Ponsonby in 1960. It has been a home away from home for me. Leslie jokes it's actually my home and I just come here [home] for visits."

Williams said he wouldn't have been able to achieve the things he had done without the support of his family. "Leslie has been part of my journey since we were teenagers. We meet before I became a prominent rugby player so she has been there for the whole journey for me."

Asked if he thought those close to him would begin to call him sir after his knighthood, he wasn't so hopeful. "I don't think they'd call me sir. I'll still be Beegee and Grandad and Pops, and some less auspicious names. Nothing much changes for me."