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Ulster Rugby's number eight Nick Williams is buying into start of new era

Number eight looks forward not back to Anscombe

By Michael Sadlier

"It's just a bit of maintenance," Nick Williams casually states, alluding to the industrial strength ice-packs wrapped around his troublesome right knee.

"It looks worse than it is," he adds, though few seem willing to completely buy into his assurances that all is actually well and that he will be ready to hit Cardiff Blues' 3G pitch tonight though he has made tonight's starting line-up.

"I did my medial ligament a long time ago. I did it before I came here and then against Glasgow in my first year here and then again against Munster last season (in May). It flares up every now and then," the 30-year-old says.

"Every little niggle I get is mainly on the bad knee and you've just got to keep on top of these things otherwise further along the line you probably won't be available for selection because of it. So, I'm trying to get it right now and maintain things.

"It (against Zebre last week) was the first time I've played 80 minutes in four or five months so it's now all about getting the niggly things right," Williams adds after spending his pre-season giving the knee all the time and treatment it needed.

"This was really the first time I've had the chance to take an extra month or two to get it 100% right whereas the last couple of times I wanted to rush back."

And talking of things niggly, this is the first time that Williams has been put up for media duty since Mark Anscombe's removal as Ulster coach so, inevitably, the conversation drifts in this direction.

In a sense he is almost relieved for the subject matter to shift away from his ice-packed knee even if the nature of fellow Kiwi Anscombe's swift departure was really a rather uncomfortable time for Williams who ended up at Ulster in the first place thanks to Anscombe who was a mentor to the young player back in New Zealand.

"For me personally it was a tough pill to swallow with Cowboy (Anscombe) going," Williams says with typical candour of the man who brought him over here in 2012 from a career cul-de-sac at the then Aironi franchise in Italy.

"Yeah, I've spoken to him quite a bit (since his removal) and he's a really close mate of mine.

"But it's a cut-throat industry and it just goes to show that it's not just players who come under fire, it's also the management.

"But he knows the business as well, he's been around and played the game as well. It is what it is, and it's all about cracking on and he's moved on as have we," says Williams before being asked what Anscombe is currently doing back home.

"I think it's the first time he's taken time off from the game since he finished playing as he then went straight into coaching so he's taking a bit of 'me time' I'd call it as he ponders the next step."

And with that, he issues a rallying call which resonates well with the current vibe about the place.

"We now need to put our heads down and leave whatever is in the past back there.

"It's not going to hold us back from moving forward and it's really good for us at the moment to buy into Kissy's (Les Kiss) knowledge."

Last Friday's Zebre game is mentioned but there is precious little positive response from Williams despite Ulster coming away with maximum points and him making his first start of the season – he had benched against the Scarlets – while the Kiwi even managed to pop up early to score a trademark pile-driving try from close-in.

"If we're honest we were very disappointed at the way we played," is Williams's response though he rightly reserves special mention of Ulster's powerfully efficient scrum and new tight-head Wiehahn Herbst before focusing on how other areas didn't function.

"It's the small things, they may look minuscule on the field but down the line they will make a heck of a difference.

"Those are the sort of things we back ourselves at being able to do but we ended up very disappointed as we didn't really do them."

Williams played last March when Ulster previously visited Cardiff's artificial surface, and lost, but he has no truck with the suggestion that the unfamiliar pitch will cause the visitors difficulties.

"You know, playing there isn't going to faze us," he maintains and the subject matter is closed.

He certainly made the right impression on the first weekend of action when erupting into the game at the Scarlets after being sprung from the bench and his ball-carrying presence clearly helped kick-start Ulster's revival which led to them snatching that last-gasp draw.

"Yeah, when the coach goes, 'Nick I just want you to run with the ball', those are like dollar signs and it just shows goes to show the difference Kissy has made since he's come in."

But he knows that getting out on the park and building up match fitness is what it is all about while, of course, managing the knee issue as best as possible.

"Yes, I need game time," he says, "and, look, it's an old knee and it's one that's been giving me trouble for years so I'm doing what I need to do to keep on top of it as well.

"But now, it's just great to be back."

Hopefully it will all last.

Belfast Telegraph


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