Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Tigers clash perfect for Ulster Rugby's Nick Williams to recapture form

Ulster's Nick Williams is hoping to recapture his form of last season, starting in Saturday's big showdown away to Leicester

Nick Williams does not pull any punches – rugby matches are won and lost up front by forwards whose sheer hard work is the all-important ingredient. Every time. No argument.

So when asked where he thinks Ulster will beat Leicester Tigers on Saturday night at Welford Road, his reply is instantaneous.

"In the pack," he says. "Whoever dominates physically wins. The game always starts and finishes up front.

"They pride themselves on their pack and we've done a lot of work watching videos of them.

"They always start up front, so we've got to try and negate that and beat them at their own game."

Williams smiles when asked if the prospect of facing a Tigers side boasting five of the British and Irish Lions who conquered Australia last summer is in any way intimidating.

"Naw, not at all," comes the answer, with a smile which suggests he has no reservations about Ulster's ability to hunt down Lions, Tigers and whatever else stands in their way.

"We've being talking about 'respectful fear' in our camp this week. That's a lot different to fear," he says.

"You don't want to fear a squad so much that you get intimidated or star-struck.

"Don't get me wrong, we respect them. You have to respect whatever opposition you play otherwise you're going to get a real good kick up the backside.

"So whether it's five Lions or 15 Lions we're playing, Saturday is going to be all about us and what we do."

Last season was a phenomenal one for the former Junior All Black, who turned 30 on December 2.

He was voted the PRO12 Player of the Year and days later scooped the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association Player of the Year Award, too.

But this season to date has been disappointing for him.

His honesty is refreshing as he says: "It just goes to show the body is getting old and things just aren't flowing my way.

"The games that I have played haven't been my best or the standard I've set myself," he adds.

"After the success I had last year it was always going to be hard to get back up there.

"But every week you set new goals and try to refresh things so you come back a better player."

A facet in which the 6f 3ins (1.91m) and 19st 5lbs (123kg) loose forward excels is line-breaks.

Add a great offloading game and a liberal sprinkling of tries – seven in 22 appearances last season – and you have quite a handful.

As yet there has been no encore of his 2012-13 line-breaking heroics.

Williams concedes: "There haven't been that many this season, if I'm honest."

Then, with admirable speed, he adds: "But Lukey Marshall and Jared (Payne) are unbelievable at finding the gap so they've been doing the job for us week in, week out this season."

Having just praised the backs, Williams promptly reverts to type, saying: "But you've always got to have a pack who are going to stand up before we can give the pretty guys a run at the back!"

Last season's exploits have made him a marked man.

Aware of the threat he poses, opponents have worked hard on methods of restricting him.

"You've got to find other avenues, I guess," he says.

"The skill of our management is unbelievable.

"I've been used more as a decoy runner this year and if I get a lot of defenders on myself there's bound to be a gap somewhere else for some of the other lads."

His take on that particularly close personal attention is: "It is a bit frustrating at times. I've always tended to love the physicality part of it, but defences are a bit smarter now and they tend to wrap the ball up a bit quicker than they did last season.

"So a bit of frustration seeps in every now and then," he adds.

"But when you see somebody else getting through a gap you know it's been better for the team."

Williams is happy to do what best serves Ulster, not least because of the regard in which he holds coach and fellow Kiwi, Mark Anscombe.

"He was my first professional coach and our relationship is pretty unique," Williams explains.

"He knows how to get the best out of me so in that way I feel I need to give something back to him for rekindling my career," he says.

"But it's not just Mark; I have a great relationship with Doakie (Neil Doak) and Dinger (Jonathan Bell) and all the other lads, too, otherwise I wouldn't want to bust my gut every week working with them."

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