Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Caretaker Williams in mood to sweep up win

Heinekin Cup

Steve Williams is no stranger to desperate situations.

The caretaker Ulster coach, who has stepped into the breach following Mark McCall's decision to resign on Monday night after three-and-a-half years in the Ravenhill hot seat, found himself in a similar situation with English club Coventry a few years ago.

The former Wales second row was a player for the Midlands side in 2004 when John White was sacked and he stepped up to the coaching job. Williams took Coventry from the relegation zone to a sixth place finish in National Division One and a coaching career was born.

Three years on and Williams, still only 36, is back in a fire-fighting role but this time the heat is many times over what he faced at Coventry.

The 28-times capped Wales lock only joined the Ravenhill set-up in the summer as the replacement for forwards coach Allen Clarke.

Now, following McCall's decision to fall on his sword, Williams is making all the big calls as he attempts to bring some stability to a situation which could see Ulster go into a dangerous free fall.

A Heineken Cup trip to France, where Ulster have never managed a victory in this tournament, is far from ideal, particularly as preparations have been disrupted by McCall's resignation.

But in professional sport, there is no time for standing still, let alone sentiment, and Williams knows that Ulster's only answer can be a return to winning ways - and as soon as possible.

" In this situation, we all have to step up and do whatever needs to be done and that includes me," said Williams. "The most important thing is to get a performance.

"We have to play well and get ourselves on the front foot because we have no God-given right to win this game. There is a job to be done now and there is a responsibility on all of us to do our job as best as we can.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves and get down in the dumps, we have got to pick ourselves up and front up."

After representing Wales Schools at Under-18 level and captaining Wales Under-21s, Williams won his first cap as a No 8 on the Wales tour to Canada and the South Seas in 1994.

He then spent two years on the sidelines after that tour before picking up eight caps in 1996 and a further 11 in 1997 before international wilderness beckoned between 1998 and 2002, after which Steve Hansen briefly brought him into the fold.

After helping rescue Coventry from relegation from Division One in 2004, he became forwards coach at his former club Northampton in 2005 where, with Paul Grayson, he helped them qualify for the European Cup. As head coach, he also led Pertemps Bees to the EDF Energy Cup final for English rugby's junior clubs.

Temporary coach of Ulster is his biggest job yet, but Williams, while not ruling himself out, has not given any thought to applying for the job on a permanent basis.

"Look, that is not something I am going to speculate about," he added.

"I have got to do this job and help out as best as I can. I am not going to think any further ahead than tonight as we have had quite a bit to do before the game! We have to keep our focus.

"What I will say, however, is that I am very much enjoying it here and I do love the place and I would certainly like to stay here. But that's in the future and that's not something to really think about now."

Williams' first selection has been a bold one, leaving Justin Harrison and Bryn Cunningham out of the squad completely while dropping Rob Dewey to the bench.

Despite their current crisis, Ulster will still field their first side containing 15 capped international in their proud history.

While Bourgoin have previously shown scant regard for this tournament - they have lost their last four home games and their last 14 on the road - it is still difficult to see how Ulster will break their losing sequence on French soil.

Any sort of performance to provide hope for the future will do however. With a vital Magners League trip to Connacht looming, Ulster simply have to turn the corner, whoever is in charge. It's up to the players now.

BOURGOIN: F Denos; D Janin, R Coetzee, Y David, J Coux; B Boyet, M Parra; A Tchougong, B Cabello, O Sourgens, D Fevre, B Williams, J Frier (capt), A Petrilli, M Rennie.

Replacements:
J Genevois, P Cardinali, C Wyatt, Y Labrit, M Forest, S Laloo, M Nicolas.

ULSTER: M Bartholomeusz; T Bowe, A Trimble, P Steinmetz, S Danielli; P Wallace, I Boss; J Fitzpatrick, R Best (capt), B Young, M McCullough, C Del Fava, N Best, K Dawson, R Wilson.

Replacements:
N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, R Caldwell, D Pollock, K Campbell, N O'Connor, R Dewey.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

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