Nick deserves all the credit, says Ulster coach Anscombe
Mark Anscombe has praised the RaboDirect PRO12 Players' Player of the Year award winner's work en route to that accolade.
The Ulster coach's working relationship with Nick Williams goes back to when the powerful loose forward was a 19-year-old learning the ropes in the pair's native New Zealand.
And while he has been credited with the miracle he has wrought in getting Williams to achieve more of his enormous potential, Anscombe was keen to dispel two myths: that the player has somehow re-invented himself since joining Ulster following unhappy stints with Munster and now-defunct Italian franchise Aironi; and that, as a coach, he has played some remarkable part in that process.
Anscombe refuses to take the lion's share of the credit for Williams' emergence as a truly outstanding No 8, witnessed by that fact that his fellow players chose him as the winner of their award.
Following Ulster's 37-13 victory over Cardiff Blues on Friday night at Ravenhill – a result which confirmed his side's a home semi-final against Scarlets this weekend – Anscombe was reminded of his role in Williams' recruitment last summer.
"I don't think it's up to me," was his modest answer in the aftermath of that four-try win against Cardiff.
"I mentioned his name and I pushed his case but there are other things and other people have got to be part of the process. It's not one person. We (the Ulster Rugby management team) always discuss and talk about the players we want and need and Nick was one.
"I've known him a long time and I know what he's capable of doing. There are areas of his game where he can be frustrating, but there's a lot of good things about his game as well."
In Sunday night's follow-up at the PRO12 awards in the Clontarf Castle Hotel, Anscombe rebuffed a suggestion by a Dublin journalist that the player had changed in some dramatic fashion.
"I refute the fact that you say he has reinvented himself," he said. "He has never re-invented himself; he's been exactly the same type of player he now is since he was 19 years of age. The fact about Nick is that even today he's got things he has to work at in his game.
"But he's a powerful man and you've got to understand that with Nick he's got to understand the team he's working with. You've got to give him confidence to play. If you're going to put him out there to play a game that doesn't suit him you're not going to get the rewards from that. So it's not about him re-inventing himself or changing; it's a matter of him being in a team and an organisation that understands who he is and what he is and what he brings. If you give him the confidence to perform, he'll perform. He has done that; he's gone close to being an All Black.
"The fact is that if he hasn't done that in other teams it's because they just haven't understood what they're working with and how to get the best out of him."
Warming to the subject of being able to promote a player in whom he always had faith, Anscombe continued: "He's 120, 125 kgs and he's got the skills of a back. So who wants to stand in front of him when he's at full speed? No-one.
"But the other thing about him is that he can be found out if he doesn't do things properly. So like all things with all good footballers you've got to understand what you need to do at a given time and make good decisions, change you skill factor and recognise a situation at a given time to be able to execute a given skill that's required.
"If you give Nick confidence and you give him the self-belief to be able to do those things, he'll make better decisions. But if he's self-doubting himself every time he's got the ball in his hand, you're not going to see the quality of the player he is."
Williams was modesty personified in collecting his reward on Sunday night. Twice he made emotional on-stage references to former Ulster colleague Nevin Spence whose death last September clearly had an enormous impact on the big Kiwi.
Afterwards, Williams reflected: "Individual awards are nice but rugby is a team game and I could not do anything without the others around me."