The match-winner Wales have just lost and why the end of his Test career isn't just sad news for him

 admin   2020-06-29 12:05   225 人阅读  0 条评论

A Scarlets fan spirited away by aliens during the night of February 16, 2013, would have found his way back to this world seven-and-a-bit years later with one burning question: “What was it like watching Owen Williams win his 50th cap?”

The individual in question would not have believed that Williams had still to reach his personal half-century.

His thoughts would have tracked back to that winter’s evening all those years ago when the then 20-year-old Welsh lad outplayed Ronan O’Gara to win the man-of-the-match award in a notable win for the Scarlets over Munster.

Williams showed maturity beyond his years that night, slotting five penalties, dropping a goal and impressing with his tactical control.

But in the 89 matches Wales have played since, the Ystradgynlais product has appeared only three times. For sure, our mate who’s been under intergalactic lock and key for so long would be incredulous and then a bit more.

Anyway, it looks all over for Williams as a Test player now, with the 28-year-old having signed a contract to play for NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan, making him ineligible for Wales.

What to feel over it all?

Indifference? After all, Williams hasn’t played that much for his country. Annoyance? Over a talent who never got to realise his potential on the biggest stage over a prolonged period.

Or perhaps there's another emotion?

“I find it quite sad,” a fellow writer said this week.

“Had he stayed with the Scarlets in 2013, by now he would have had at least 30 caps.

“In 2013, George North left for Northampton, Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate joined Racing 92 and Mike Phillips chose to stay in France rather than return home.

“But I remember being more worried about Williams leaving the Scarlets for Leicester, because he was a youngster.

“The others were already world class and their Wales careers were never going to be affected by playing abroad. Williams was different.”

Indeed he was.

He couldn’t get a look-in with Wales for pretty much all of his time with Leicester, despite form which saw him score 564 points in 84 games and often win selection over England’s Toby Flood. He became the Tigers’ Mr Reliable; to Wales he seemed to be more like Mr Invisible. No matter how many match-winning performances he came up with — and there were plenty of times when he showed himself to have a match-winning temperament — no cap came for his country.

Finally, in 2017, for a southern hemisphere tour that coincided with a Lions series, with the boys at Aberflyhalf thirds wondering if they might get the calls, he bagged a place and spent nine minutes on the field against Tonga as a blood replacement for Scott Williams.

There followed two more caps in the autumn, against Australia and New Zealand, with Williams filling the second playmaker role outside Dan Biggar. He did well, too, not missing a single tackle in opposition to Samu Kerevi and in his next outing passing and running nicely in opposition to the All Blacks.

By then, he had moved from Leicester to Gloucester for wages that were estimated at £400,000 a year.

It wasn’t a move that would have obviously delighted Warren Gatland.

The New Zealander declined to use him as a starter, with Williams not helped by having to return to his club during fallow international weeks during tournaments. There were whispers that a lack of training time had counted against a player trying to establish himself in the set-up.

Nor did Gloucester exactly overdo their selection of the Neath-born player.

Throw in a number of bad injuries and you have pretty much the complete picture as to why his cap tally doesn’t accurately reflect his talent.

How much of all this is Williams' fault? Well, he hasn't taken the smoothest road to prosper in international terms and, rightly or wrongly, there’s a perception out there that he has made hard-headed decisions that haven’t exactly prioritised Test rugby.

Of course, we can’t be sure of his reasons for acting as he has.

It may be that the playmaker has simply preferred the rugby on offer over the border and there’s a fair chance he may have made good friends at the clubs he has played for. Perhaps his personal circumstances haven’t been conducive to a switch back to Wales.

Whatever, his move to Japan is a venture that looks to have put the tin hat on any big-stage ambitions he might have harboured.

The match-winner Wales have just lost and why the end of his Test career isn The match-winner Wales have just lost and why the end of his Test career isn't just sad news for him newsOwen Williams during the game against New Zealand in the autumn of 2017 (Image: Ben Evans/Huw Evans Agency)

That said, it’s his life.

Possibly, he might feel that Welsh players should be allowed to play for their country wherever they are based.

The problem with that take is that the regions would be left unprotected in a world where they have wealthier rugby rivals close by in England and France. It wouldn’t take long for plenty of Welsh bags to be packed if the 60-cap rule were scrapped.

The other side of the coin is that careers are short and players are effectively being denied opportunities to enjoy new experiences.

Ex-Wales lock Dominic Day spoke well on the subject recently, saying: “I totally get that there are many issues for the regions.

“But I’m looking at it from the perspective of the players.

“A player’s body is his business.

“Comparatively speaking, a player has a short shelf life. His time in the game can be all over in under a decade.

“Players are like everyone else. They have mortgages to pay and families to support. Those things are over the rest of their lives, not just for the next two years.”

It’s hard to criticise, then, whichever way an individual jumps.

It is about personal choice.

But it isn’t just Williams who will lose out in Test terms by being in Japan.

Wales now find a cool-thinking, versatile and mentally tough player out of reach, a player Williams’ former Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann once likened to ex-All Blacks midfield general Aaron Mauger. (His home region, the Ospreys, could also have done with a player of his calibre covering 10 and 12 for them.)

Fewer than six months ago, he was named in Wayne Pivac’s squad for the Six Nations, only to suffer another injury, this time during the warm-up ahead of the game with Ireland in Dublin.

Sometimes, certain things are just not meant to be.

It’s something Williams and Wayne Pivac may one day reflect on, in one or both cases more than a shade ruefully.

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