Rugby: Ali Williams 'in best shape of his life'

Ali Williams of the Blues runs through drills during a Auckland Blues Super Rugby training...
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 team achieves."

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 itself."

- Steven Holloway of

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