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Returning to take on Ulster will be emotional: Williams

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Walking into Kingspan Stadium ahead of Ulster's Guinness PRO12 showdown with Cardiff at the weekend, Nick Williams may need to pause and remind himself which way to turn when he comes to the crossroad between the home and away changing rooms.

For four successful seasons, it was Belfast that he and his young family called home but, thanks to a summer switch to the Welsh capital, he will be considered a visitor come 7.35pm on Friday night.

His all-action playing style, and a contrasting easy-going attitude off the field, ensured he was always a firm favourite with the Ulster faithful and he is sure to be welcomed back like a long-lost friend when he trots out onto the familiar turf.

Ahead of the first return, the 33-year-old admitted he expects something of a surreal experience.

"It's natural for it to be a bit strange," said the man who won the PRO12's Player of the Year for 2012/13 wearing Ulster colours.

"I was there for a long time and it will always be a special place for me and my family. I've some very fond memories there, made some great mates.

"We really enjoyed our time and then, like everything and anything, you have to move on but I'm really excited to come back, if selected, and get to run out in front of that Ravenhill crowd again.

"Those supporters there, they made the game for me. Whenever they were happy, I was happy."

Williams has naturally kept in close contact with many friends from his days in the Kingspan set-up - indeed he caught up with a few older faces in the shape of former Ulstermen John Afoa and Paddy McAllister only last week when Cardiff met Gloucester - but he stresses that any pleasantries will have to wait until after Friday's final whistle blasts.

"I always have a look to see how the boys are going and we all still keep in contact," he said. "I saw them when they were over to face the Dragons two weeks ago because the bond is very much strong.

"I've such close friends there. I would have had half the squad up at my wedding a few years ago so we became good friends with their partners too.

"It'll be a wee bit emotional but my professional life now is in Cardiff and I'll be looking to get one up on the old mates come Friday evening.

"That's rugby. You can be enemies on the pitch and brothers off it. As soon as I cross that line, we'll be going for each other but when the whistle goes it'll be hugs and kisses."

While Williams, his wife Gemma and their daughters have embraced life in Cardiff - five-year-old Liana has even picked up some of the Welsh language in her short time there - matters on the field haven't gone as well as hoped.

When fit, the former junior All Black has again been a force to be reckoned with but his side's hopes of a play-off spot have already faded and they were dumped out of the Challenge Cup last weekend.

As such, their only route to top tier European rugby next year will be through a protracted play-off involving teams from not only the PRO12 but also the Aviva Premiership and Top 14.

In contrast, with the top four chase now at the business end - Ulster take on the only three sides above them in their final three fixtures - the pressure is mounting on Les Kiss's men week by week despite a lengthy winning run.

"We know our top six chances are dashed but we want to stay in our position," Williams added.

"We played well against Leinster and then again for 50 or 60 minutes on Saturday so I guess we have a wee bit of momentum.

"With the four games coming up, we've got nothing to lose.

"If you go away and think you won't win, you're halfway to losing already.

"I know from personal experience that it's a weight on the shoulders playing at Ravenhill.

"But we will come over there knowing that we can enjoy the experience.

"We can go out and express ourselves so watch this space on Friday."

  • Ulster v Cardiff Blues, Guinness Pro12 Championship: Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

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