Liam Williams column: Senior statesman, finding form and new caps


Liam Williams

Venue: Parc y Scarlets Date: Saturday, 21 November Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Coverage: Live text and BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Radio 5 Live commentary on the BBC Sport website and app; live on S4C

In his latest BBC Wales Sport column, Liam Williams reflects on being an elder statesman in the starting side against Georgia, new cap initiations and why it is crucial that Wales end their losing run.

When I saw the side named against Georgia it was a strange feeling. In the starting XV I was the second oldest at 29 behind captain Justin Tipuric, who was also the only player to have more caps than me. There are people in the squad who were born in this century!

It does feel a little bit strange being one of the senior statesmen and there is a certain responsibility on players like me this weekend with a lot of young and fresh faces.

That is why it is important I get my own house in order because I have been off the mark in the last couple of weeks.

I will give myself a little leeway because I have had a lack of game-time, with the match for the Scarlets in the Pro14 a couple of weeks ago being my first in eight months. I played 70 minutes there.

I want to get back to where I was last year when I was fit, healthy and playing well. I am 29 years old, have 65 Wales caps and know when I am not playing well. I will hold my hand up that I was below par against Ireland and that wasn’t me.

I will do my best to help out with the younger boys and feel the best way I can do that is by improving my performance and leading by example.

There have been 13 personnel changes so only me and Justin have been given the chance to play again to help put the wrongs right after Dublin.

It is great to see those young players have their chance on the international stage and it just reminds me how special winning that first cap is.

I was nervous beyond belief when I got my first in 2011. It was Martyn Williams’ 100th game and my first in a Test, against the Barbarians.

It was a magical, emotional day for me and my family, something you dream about as a youngster playing rugby for your local club. So many players hope to play for Wales and we are privileged to have achieved that goal.

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It is a shame for the guys now who are making debuts because they deserve to be running out in front of a full Principality Stadium. They have worked hard for that.

Normally, if we were at home at the Principality Stadium, we would make the new caps sing something in the Presidents’ Lounge after the match when being presented with their cap.

Now, because of Covid-19, we are doing it in the changing rooms after the game. But they will be singing a song, hopefully in triumph.

In the back line we have two new caps and two other players making first starts.

Those boys have been putting their hands up for a couple of weeks now with their work on the training park. They have their chance now.

I will play anywhere for Wales but 15 is my first-choice starting position so I am happy to be back at full-back after the last couple of matches on the wing.

I will have some gas outside me with Louis Rees-Zammit and Johnny McNicholl, who can make a spark out of anything.

Johnny is a good bloke and a great player who I have played with at the Scarlets. He will look to get his hands on the ball. Sometimes I do not have a clue what he is going to do when he gets the ball but that is what makes him so good and a nightmare for opposition defences.

Louis is just rapid, stupidly quick. It’s strange because he does not look like he is running that fast but he is flying. He just glides. I am looking forward to playing inside him and hopefully letting him loose.

There has been some hype around Louis with people wanting him to start earlier after he made his debut against France in Paris as a replacement.

He is still 19 and you don’t want to throw these boys in at the deep end. It takes time and he had a couple of knocks before the Scotland game so was not available.

Games like Georgia are when players like Louis should get a start and hopefully there will be some space to run into.

There will be an unfamiliar feeling with new half-backs and centres. Johnny Bleddyn, Rhys Williams, as we call him, will be making his debut in the midfield and Callum Sheedy lines up at outside-half.

I had never met Callum before this training camp, which was strange because I played for Saracens and he was with Bristol, who he has played so well for over the last couple of years.

He is always laughing and smiling and has the skills. In the first week here he was carving up in training by taking the ball to the line which is what we want. He is a talented player and I am sure he has a big future at this level.

Georgia will be a tough game and we will not be underestimating them. They have a big pack but as England showed against them last week and we demonstrated against them in the World Cup last year, a good start is vital.

They are a very physical side and you need to front up against them in the opening 30 minutes, maybe almost take their legs away from them.

James Botham is another making his debut and he is an athletic bloke who loves to get stuck in. I am sure he will have a big job trying to chop down those Georgia runners this weekend.

He has not really been in the squad too much. He came in a couple of days about two weeks ago, and then returned on Monday and was picked to start. He must think this international rugby business is easy!

For all the changes, there can be no excuses. This is a big game especially when we have lost the last six matches and given the manner of the last couple of defeats.

We can’t afford to lose this weekend. We have been picked for a reason and have to do a job. We need to get the win to get the monkey off our back and off the back of the Welsh rugby nation as a whole.

Hopefully we can get back to winning ways and get the public behind us again.

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