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Nick still giving his all... right to final whistle

By Jonathan Bradley

At the end of an eventful week, Nick Williams snatched victory for Ulster over Connacht as the number 8 kicked off his farewell tour in the best possible fashion.

It was announced two days before Christmas that the former junior All Black would leave the province for Guinness Pro12 rivals Cardiff at the end of the season and, while far from unexpected, Saturday was another reminder that on current form any replacement will have big shoes to fill.

Having struggled through an indifferent campaign last time out, in a season that was over as early as March due to a lengthy suspension, the 32-year-old is again showing the kind of form that saw him gain such praise and quickly become a fans' favourite when he first signed from Munster in 2012.

In eight league games this season he has been Ulster's best performer just as often as not, while his four tries in all competitions is a mark matched only by Craig Gilroy.

Penalties have still been an occasional issue but two big turnovers in the win over Toulouse at the Stade Ernest Wallon in his previous game showed again that he is more than just a battering ram.

Any cynics who thought it was a run of form inspired by the need to secure a contract had that idea firmly refuted in Galway.

Williams, who seems to have genuinely embraced the new Les Kiss regime, was quick to turn praise on the collective after his side became the first to beat Connacht at the Sportsground this season.

"It's a tough place to come and win," he said.

"I thought we mentally kept it together. We knew how physical it was going to be. We knew it was going to be tough so full credit to the boys.

"The try in the last five minutes shows the mentality we've built in the last five weeks.

"The whole squad, everyone has decided to keep calm and play how we want to play. Les Kiss has brought that controlled chaos and it seems to be working for us."

The former Auckland player was self-effacing when describing his match-winning contribution in the final moments of a game dominated by defences - "the line was there and the ball was there," he deadpanned - but Kiss was more effusive in his praise.

"Nick has been a great servant in the time he's been here," said the director of rugby.

"He's had to move on and find a new home. Good luck to him.

"He's a great man and he really cares about Ulster.

"The way he performed tonight just speaks volumes of the man. We just hope he doesn't play against us next year."

On reports that his replacement in Ulster's back-row will be another established star to go along with the arrival of Charles Piutau, Kiss was coy.

"The conversations are private and that's how they stay until it's necessary to say more," he said.

"We need to get the balance right in terms of what we need. Overall our focus is on building a roster that helps all parts of the game and all the players we're hoping to develop. When we're ready to announce that, we will."

Such speculations are for the future while the present, as Williams points out, concerns an Ulster team that enjoyed a perfect four from four in December.

"I've still got six months in Belfast. I'm not gone yet. I came here to win something and want to give that a great crack in the time I have left. For now my cause is all Ulster."

His days in the province may be numbered but the number 8 seems determined to make his swansong worth watching.

Belfast Telegraph


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