Johnny Williams: Scarlets centre on switching to Wales and cancer fight

Johnny Williams
Johnny Williams joined Scarlets from Newcastle Falcons
Venue: Parc y Scarlets Date: Sat 21 Nov Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Coverage: Live text and BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra; commentary on the BBC Sport website and app; live on S4C

Wales new cap Johnny Williams reflected on a “rollercoaster” 18 months after he was named to start against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup.

Williams turned out for England in their uncapped match against the Barbarians in May 2019, before being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He returned in January 2020 and joined the Scarlets before switching to represent his father’s country.

“It’s been an absolute rollercoaster for me,” Williams said.

“My goal has always been to get back on the field and to have that focus to get where I am today, I’ve never taken my eye off the ball.”

The 24-year-old centre was born in Weston-super-Mare, within sight of the Welsh coast, but won his early honours for England- starting in the 2016 Junior World Championship final win over Ireland.

Williams will line-up outside Callum Sheedy, who made a similar decision.

He lined up with Sheedy in the senior white shirt at Twickenham in 2019 and was among the try-scorers against the Barbarians, before a cancer diagnosis put his career on hold for months.

“Looking back there were some tough times, but I got through it, I’m here and ready to represent my country,” Williams told BBC Sport Wales.

‘Looking better in a red shirt’

His father Gareth comes from Rhyl, and Williams was captivated by the atmosphere of Welsh rugby internationals from a young age.

“I’ve always been a huge supporter of Welsh rugby, my dad had a debenture at the Millennium Stadium, the Principality as it is now, for many years and I’ve been going (to games) since the age of six,” he added.

“I do consider myself as Welsh, I don’t have the accent but I still want to play for Wales and I hope I show my best self at the weekend. I look better in a red shirt,” he joked.

Johnny Williams in action for England
Johnny Williams in action for England against the Barbarians in 2019

After starting out with London Irish, Williams moved to Newcastle before the cancer treatment which ruled him out for the second half of 2019.

“It was worrying times, I look back and I’ve learned a lot coming through that, it was a rollercoaster but I’m out the other side, I’m back and playing some really good rugby,” Williams said.

He eventually made 25 appearances for the Falcons before announcing his switch to the Scarlets in pursuit of the Wales honours he has now attained- on the ground where he plays his regional rugby, even though that amounts to just one run-out at home.

“There’s a lot of emotions, excitement and nerves for my first game but I’ve been patient and it’s taken me quite a lot of graft and effort, so I’m grateful,” said Williams.

“It is a massive shame not to be at the Principality Stadium, one of the biggest reasons was looking on, back when I was six, and wanting to experience that atmosphere.

“But it’s on Parc y Scarlets which I’m familiar with and that does ease me in for the first cap. We all want to win and showcase what we’ve got.”

The raw Wales back-line against Georgia includes two debutants in Williams and Kieran Hardy, two first starters in Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit, and Johnny McNicholl who has only had a few days back in the squad.

Despite a close shave in 2017 against Georgia and three disappointing performances from his senior players since the sport’s restart, coach Wayne Pivac is confident the backs will gel together.

“It’s very exciting, we look at what they’re doing in training and it’s been just a question of when we would give these guys the opportunity, we think this is the game.

“They’ve trained together for a couple of weeks because we’ve run a couple of teams in training and they’ve helped prepare the guys who’ve played the last two Test matches so it’s been the other way round this week and there’ve been some good combinations,” Pivac told BBC Sport Wales.

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