Kirwan plays his Joker card

23:26, Dec 13 2012

Sir John Kirwan has made his first big call as Blues coach and the appointment of Ali Williams has the potential to make or break his first year in charge.

It's a bold move for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Ali Williams has built not only a reputation as a larrikin but also turned it into a marketable brand by releasing his own book of jokes and funny stories. For someone who's cultivated the wacky image of a joker like Williams has, Kirwan's taken a gamble that this ageing lock can evolve into the sort of leader needed for this highly inexperienced squad.

Second, there is a question mark as to whether Comical Ali can hold his body together after being plagued by injury recently.

The Chiefs managed this tricky scenario by having dual leaders who could cover for the other in case one needed a rest. Liam Messam and Craig Clarke both took their play to a new level and complimented each other perfectly as dual captains. The Crusaders had Kieran Read as Richie McCaw's able assistant and given the long lay-off for the All Blacks' captain, Read was the main captain for much of the season.

So the question is not whether Williams will make it through the gruelling season unscathed, but who will replace him when the inevitable injury or rotation happens? Luke Braid, Keven Mealamu or perhaps Piri Weepu?

Kirwan may have made the call in the hope that the extra responsibility will motivate Williams to take training a bit more seriously and not lead any dressing room rebellions. Prime ministers often do similar things by giving their most likely rivals an important Cabinet position, but it remains to be seen if Williams will play ball with Kirwan.

Similar experiments didn't work with Sione Lauaki or Ma'a Nonu when their respective coaches tried to temper ill-discipline by giving them the captain's arm band.

I hope for the sake of the All Blacks that Williams can overcome his inconsistencies and find the kind of form and grit that made Brad Thorn such a crucial element in the World Cup victory last year.

The loss to England earlier this month highlighted the need for depth and experience in our forward pack, and if Williams could rediscover his pre-Achilles injury form, Steve Hansen could sleep a lot more easily.

Nice guys don't always come last

I was pleased to see Michael Bates get a well-deserved recall to the Blacks Caps following the double injury blow to Adam Milne and Mark Gillespie. I've played quite a bit of club cricket against Bates and despite being a ruthless bowler on the pitch, he's one of the genuine nice guys on the Auckland cricket scene.

After every match he was always up for a chat and a beer no matter the result. He's also battled back from a pretty horrific ankle injury which almost saw him completely lost to top level cricket. But he faithfully did the mind-numbing rehab work, slowly regained his pace and finally earned a recall to the first-class scene after spending a number of years out of the Aces.

He has laser-like accuracy which has made him an ideal T20 bowler as was seen at the Champions League earlier this year. He comes from pretty good sporting stock, given his older brother is Steven is a former ABs No 8 and I understand he captained the New Zealand under 19 cricket side before injury cut short his very promising career. 

Most fast bowlers take a few years to fully realise their potential and can actually increase their pace as they move into the 30s, so perhaps we'll see a bit more of Bates in years to come.


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