Ali Williams. Photo by Getty
From comedian to elder statesman to name but two, Ali
Williams has played many roles during his rugby career, but the
Blues captaincy will test his patience like no other.
Williams doesn't do humdrum; he doesn't like playing the
media game and speaking in platitudes week in and week out,
but that's something he will have to quickly get used to as
the player's representative for Sir John Kirwan's brave new
Sometimes Williams can be engaging and witty in front of the
media, but sometimes his impatience is obvious. His double
act with All Blacks' teammate Sonny Bill Williams in front of
the world's press at last year's World Cup - when the pair
decided to answer questions on behalf of the other - was
awkward at best, disrespectful and embarrassing at worst.
It appears the 31-year-old lock is willing to shoulder his
new responsibilities, however. The target of critics after
his selection for the All Blacks' end of year tour following
his mediocre form for the Blues, he was honest and forthright
when speaking about his opportunity ahead of the Italy test.
Williams acknowledged the challenge his new role at the Blues
represents when saying: "It's an extremely tough job and I
respect that. There have been many great leaders of this team
before me and my job, along with the team, is to strengthen
the strong traditions that the Blues have."
He is clearly comfortable making his opinions known. Williams
is an advisor on the Nottingham Rugby Club's board after
playing for the English outfit last year during his recovery
from his latest Achilles injury.
Kirwan conceded he has made a big call.
"I think it's an incredibly important time for Ali Williams,"
"He's a 77-test veteran who has been a big part of the Blues.
He's had some interesting experiences in the past but he
really cares about this place and I believe he's the right
man to lead this team. It's a great challenge for him and one
I'm sure he'll relish."
Kirwan's hand was forced by Keven Mealamu's decision to take
an extended break and forego the captaincy. Flanker Luke
Braid captained the Blues under Pat Lam this year when hooker
Mealamu was unavailable, but the strain of the almost weekly
defeats began to tell on the 24-year-old, who reached greater
heights as a player last year.
Apart from Braid, few others within the inexperienced team
could be considered captaincy material. The only other
contender would have been Tom McCartney, a 27-year-old about
to play his sixth season at the Blues and now the team's
first-choice loosehead prop following Tony Woodcock's
departure to the Highlanders.
Williams has had a tough run with injuries during his career,
and Kirwan will be hoping his Achilles and knee problems
aren't an issue given his other top-flight lock, Anthony
Boric, is returning following neck surgery. There are still
question marks about how Boric will cope physically and
mentally from his injury and long lay-off.
Kirwan said Williams was ready to prove his doubters wrong.
"He's had a bad run of injuries but I think he's ready for
this because he's had a bad run and some people think he's
finished. I don't believe that, and neither does he.
"I think he's got a heck of a lot to offer this franchise.
He's a world class lock with the ability to lead a team, and
I'm extremely enthusiastic and positive about this decision."