Blues to profit for Ali's All Blacks retirement
Ali Williams' surprise decision to pull the pin on his All Blacks career only has upside for his Blues franchise, says coach Sir John Kirwan.
The Blues captain revealed at an emotional Friday press conference that he'd realised "in my gut" that the time was right to step away from the international game. He will, though, continue to lead the Blues in Super Rugby.
It had been a decision that had come with a pretty clear emotional toll as Williams several times broke down in tears as he reflected on a career that saw him earn 77 caps in over a decade of test rugby.
He was just two short of Ian Jones's record for an All Black lock, though four major injuries had robbed him, by his estimation, of a potential 40 to 50 more appearances.
Clearly Williams had seen the writing on the wall, with that array of injuries, a chronically sore knee, a broken thumb he's playing through this season and his advancing years - he's 32 - all counting against him.
Plus the new wave of locks had already left him floundering around fourth in the national pecking order - well behind the likes of Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano.
But Kirwan was very much looking on the bright side of Williams' "courageous" decision to narrow his rugby focus.
"I'm probably the happiest man here," said Kirwan at the Williams press conference, "because I get to profit. He's been outstanding for the Blues, he loves the region dearly and he wants to help us get back to where we think we should be, and that's back on top and being consistent performers.
"So I want Ali as long as he wants to stay."
Kirwan believes the lessening of the load will only have positive spinoffs for the veteran lock. "If he can have a little bit of a break between seasons he's going to come back strong. He's still a young man, and we're hoping he's going to concentrate on the Blues and get himself out there every week.
"I can't talk highly enough of him," added Kirwan of his new skipper. "He's been an outstanding leader for us this year. The greatest attribute Ali Williams has is he's prepared to look in the mirror, take on advice and change.
"I feel very fortunate. He's made a courageous decision, he's been a great All Black, he can leave that jersey to someone else now and they have a big job to fill his boots.
"As Blues coach I'm just excited about us growing together. We've still got a lot to learn moving in this competition, so for me it's a real positive and I think Ali is going to get better and better in his role with us."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also surprised a few people when he said Williams would make a good coach, should he choose to go down that avenue.
"He's got some attributes which I think fit with a coach," said Hansen.
"He's really passionate about the game, he cares a lot about people and, as much as he'd like to trick you, he actually thinks a lot about the game.
"In coaching you need to care about people, be passionate about the game, and think about the game a lot.
"He's got all those things, it's just whether he's got the patience to go through all the politics that come with coaching, and handling the media.
"I think he'll be a great addition to your mob [the media], he'd make it interesting.
"I think he'll probably go there before he goes coaching, but I would like to see him one day have a crack at it because I think he'd be pretty good at it."