Ali Williams of the Blues runs through drills during a
Auckland Blues Super Rugby training session. (Photo by
Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
Blues captain Ali Williams claims to be in the best shape
of his life and Piri Weepu has set a personal best in the beep
test this week. For new coach Sir John Kirwan it's a case of so
far, so good.
The Blues are fighting fit, and after enduring a demanding
two-month fitness schedule the balls are back out and the
message is clear: this is a new beginning.
Williams looks like a man revitalised. After a testing 2012
campaign and the loss of some influential players, the
77-test veteran has been entrusted with the job of putting
the franchise back on track and he looks and sounds like a
man who is up for the new challenge.
"I'm the fittest I've ever been. I still have to convert that
to rugby fitness but in terms of energy and excitement
levels, it's almost like a fresh start," he said.
"Fitness wise there's a new level here. I'm impressed with
the way that some of the guys who have been here for a bit
longer have got up and said 'if not now then when, and if not
me then who?' It's very exciting."
Williams is among an experienced core group that won't travel
to Queensland this weekend when the Blues face an experienced
Reds squad for their first pre-season hit out in Toowoomba.
Kirwan said there was no need to see Williams this early and
is looking at getting him involved in their next warm up
match against the Waratahs in Whangarei.
Piri Weepu, Charlie Faumuina, Rene Ranger and Peter Saili
will also not be involved until after this weekend, with
Kirwan giving his younger squad members a chance to fill some
of the leadership roles.
The 31-year old Williams remembers the player who made his
debut for the Blues in 2002 and reflected on the difference
between his outlook then and now.
"That guy was very keen and very green and had all the vision
and hope of achieving things. This guy knows that he needs to
achieve more and can achieve more. I'm at the stage of my
career where the thirst for what I need to achieve as an
individual is less important to me than enhancing what the
Williams said that generating clear channels of communication
was his greatest challenge as captain and was working on
creating an environment where everyone was encouraged to
express themselves, before the job gets done.
"When you're not a captain you find problems, but when you
are a captain you find solutions. My big goal is to be in and
help a winning team, not to be the superstar of the team.
"I've got a job that I've never done before that I have
thoroughly enjoyed. I've also met a bunch of new guys that
are very grounded, down to earth people that want to play for
a region that really wants to put some pride back into
- Steven Holloway of nzherald.co.nz