Belfast Telegraph

European Champions Cup Ulster v Saracens: Nick Williams relishes fight for his Kingspan future

By Jonathan Bradley

As he prepares to take on Saracens in a crucial Champions Cup clash this evening, Ulster's Nick Williams is determined not to let an uncertain future detract from his performances on the pitch.

The fan favourite, who won the PRO12 Player of the Year crown in 2013 after joining from Aironi, missed the end of last season thanks to a lengthy ban for striking Cardiff's Rhys Patchell but has begun this campaign in stirring form, especially at the Kingspan Stadium where he so relishes playing his rugby.

With his contract - along with fellow overseas players Franco van der Merwe and Louis Ludik - set to expire at the end of this year, the soon-to-be 32-year-old is unsure what next season will bring but says he is still out to play every game like it could be the last for his adopted province.

"I haven't really thought about it," he said. "I'm just taking it block by block.

"This is the second week of this block, I just want to take it week by week. I always say you have to play every game like it's your last anyway.

"If you hold anything back then come contract time you probably won't get one. You just have to give it your all and hope that all that stuff takes care of itself.

"Like I always say here, it's not about an individual; it's always about what's best for the team.

"I wouldn't be able to play the way I have been playing if it wasn't for the other boys in the squad.

"I always take that to my grave, it's always going to be a team sport and no one person is bigger than this team.

"I'm just enjoying my rugby. I enjoy the lads off the field here; it makes a difference because when you go on the field you want to play for them as well as playing with them. That's all I'm really thinking about."

Williams started both Heineken Cup quarter-final defeats to tonight's opposition in 2013 and 14 and admits that, at this stage, they know just how stubborn Saracens can be.

"They're an in-form outfit. Four from four in the Premiership and then they gave Toulouse a good old fashioned hiding at the weekend," noted Williams.

"Toulouse are Toulouse though, we're a different team.

"We'll be looking to match them where we can and better them where we can.

"They've been one of our tougher opponents. Everyone knows what happened here and what happened at Twickenham in the back-to-back quarters.

"We know what we're up against. There's class all over the pitch. Wherever you look there's quality.

"They've a good commander in (Owen) Farrell and some big, big boys up front. They're a really physical team.

"They have a pattern in how they play, they stick to it and it really works for them. We're looking forward to it; you want to play against these teams.

"We'll look to combat them somehow, some way and look to have a really good crack at it.

"It's one of those games where you can't really say much, you just have to action it come Friday night."

With both sides boasting internationals aplenty, there are an abundance of contests to savour but Williams' head-to-head with the equally abrasive Billy Vunipola is certainly one to watch.

The young England No.8 who, despite perhaps not seeing eye to eye with the locals when Saracens won at the Kingspan two seasons ago, was sensational on his last visit to Belfast and Ulster must look to negate the rampaging back-rower's impact.

Of course, Saracens could no doubt say the same of Williams.

"It's one of the many big collisions that will happen on the night," the Kiwi chuckled when asked of the confrontation.

"You look across their whole team, they all love the physical aspect of the game. It is a man's sport at the end of the day and if you don't want to be physical then you're probably in the wrong game.

"That's just one part of the game that they pride themselves on. We trained well this week, we've gotten our heads around how they're going to play, a lot of work on the computers and what not. We're ready and set to go."

With the players primed, the former junior All Black is hoping the fans are too.

"Whether it's home or away, if you're not confident you're halfway to losing the match already," he added.

"Kingspan has always been a strong place for us and we can build on that.

"Whether you're a home-grown player or whether you're a player from abroad, it's home.

"I love playing here. The crowd are right on top of you, it's deafening at times… it's hard to play in, I wouldn't have it any other way."

With the sell-out confirmed on Wednesday, and 18,000 fans with revenge on their mind set to pack the stadium tonight, there's little danger of that.

Belfast Telegraph


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