Comical Ali Williams turned serious today when he was lumped in with a group of All Blacks rookies to express his passion for the jersey.
Williams' place in the squad has been widely criticised after he recovered from a knee injury at the 11th hour and was selected on reputation for the All Blacks European tour, which starts against Scotland next Monday morning (NZT).
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen felt Williams' presence complimented his inexperienced four-pronged locking combination and, to his credit, Williams acknowledged many thought he was fortunate to make the tour. He made it clear there was an underlying responsibility to repay Hansen's on-going faith.
"There's always going to be talking points about my selection; good bad or indifferent," he said. "At the end of the day there are a group of guys who have put some faith in me. It's about me repaying that and adding value to a team I've been in for so long.
"I'd lie if I said I haven't been frustrated by how my career is going but it's about how I deal with that and how I come out the other side."
Often the larrikin, Williams doesn't mind being the centre of attention, but it must have been a strange scenario for the veteran today in Edinburgh as he was forced to put his class clown act to one side.
Williams might be 31-years-old have played 75 tests, but that didn't exempt him from being singled out by Hansen, along with the other youthful additions to the Rugby Championship squad.
Williams shared the stage to talk about the privilege of being an All Black with uncapped hooker Dane Coles and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
"Shag got me to stand up and say what it means to be in this team. There were just a few of us he asked," Williams said.
Now the fourth-ranked lock, Williams realises he is playing catch up on Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick.
"I said 'watching you guys over the Rugby Championship and the level you took the game to, especially the three locks, has inspired me to see if I can match that and if not better it'."
This four-match tour may be Williams' final chance to prove he can regain the compelling form of 2007. Back then, he was one of the world's best lineout exponents and his ball skills in open play were also a feature. But it's been too long since those attributes were seen in the international arena.
Williams can't afford to ponder what the future holds. He needs to deliver. And deliver now.
"In terms of my career I look at things differently now. For me it's about this week and only this week. In terms of looking to the future I no longer do that, I don't want to do that. I just want to enjoy the moment. If I look too far ahead I could fall over real quick.
"For me it's about being here for the team and offering what I can. Then it's about stamping my mark and saying hey, 'if you are going to do something you do it 100 percent' which is exactly what I'm doing. I'm aiming to get back to where I was."
In the open speech to his team-mates Williams also revealed his latest injury was harder to come back from than his two Achilles operations.
"I got pretty frustrated a while back. To be honest it was probably the worst injury I've had because there's no big shinning light; there's no big World Cup to chase. It was about my passion and drive to get back in this jersey. That's what kept me going."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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