The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement

'Didn't want to leave': The Aussie-raised star in World Cup final - and the 'vision' that led him to the All Blacks

23rd October, 2023
Advertisement
Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Editor
23rd October, 2023
281
25382 Reads

PARIS – In another world, Tamaiti Williams would be back in Australia with the rest of the Wallabies.

Instead, the 23-year-old, who lived in Perth until he was 16, looks likely to be presented with one of rugby’s greatest challenges: stopping the Springboks’ “bomb squad” in a World Cup final.

Born in Whangārei, Williams’ family moved to Perth when he was just three months.

There he went to “four or five high schools”, as his parents, Johnny and Natalie, would get on the road and pick up jobs in the Wheatbelt.

In between, he would play rugby union on Saturdays and league on Sundays. On his father’s request, so to improve his tackling.

“I was a bit scared in the younger grades,” Williams said.

Advertisement

He stayed until he was 16, before his father’s vision of him developing into an All Blacks star saw the family return to New Zealand’s north.

“It [Perth] holds a massive place in my heart,” Williams said, speaking at the All Blacks’ camp in west Paris.

“I came through the schooling system and the Force representative teams. I love that place. I didn’t actually want to leave, but my parents had a vision that I couldn’t see.

“But I’ve got a lot of family in Australia. I try to get back there as much as I can. I went there last year for my uncle’s 30th. I saw school mates, cousins, aunties, uncles. It holds a special place in my heart. I also say I’m from Perth.”

It was only on Sunday that Williams took a moment to reflect on his whirlwind year.

After being on the fringes of the Crusaders for the past couple of seasons, Williams had the training wheels ripped off after several injuries saw the rising prop thrown in the deep end.

All along, one piece of advice stood out.

Advertisement

“One that stood out for me this year was in pre-season when the All Blacks came back and I remember Sam Whitelock saying to me, ‘You just have to get one per cent better every day.’ That’s the mindset I’ve taken on board,” Williams said.

“You take the learnings from yesterday and move on to today.”

Tamaiti Williams credits some advice from Sam Whitelock (L) from helping drive his year to the World Cup final. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

It led to him playing 15 matches for the Crusaders in 2023, 14 in the No.1 jersey.

Then, a prized first cap against the Springboks at Mt Smart Stadium, before taking on the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup.

World Cup selection followed, including a place on the bench against Los Pumas in last weekend’s huge 44-6 semi-final thrashing.

“It has been crazy,” Williams reflected.

Advertisement

“I went out for brunch with my mum and my fiancée yesterday and I sat back and thought, ‘Damn, how long has this year been? But we’re probably in the most important week of the year now.’ I’ll leave the reflections for Sunday.”

More pressing is stopping the Springboks on Saturday (Sunday, 6am AEDT), with a prized fourth Webb Ellis Cup on the line.

As Ian Foster munched away on his popcorn to watch the Springboks overrun England in a dramatic 16-15 great escape, the Boks’ much-vaunted scrum came to the fore again.

In particular, replacement loose-head prop Ox Nche turned England inside out. It caught everyone’s attention.

“He’s tough, bro,” Williams casually said. “I just look at how tough he is. He’s a great prop.”

A freak of nature?

“There’s a lot of freaks of nature at this Rugby World Cup, there’s one right next to me (Samisoni Taukei’aho),” Williams said drily. “He does his job well.”

Advertisement

Captain Sam Cane (L) and Tamaiti Williams hold the Freedom Cup after defeating the Springboks at Mt Smart Stadium on July 15, 2023 in Auckland. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Williams, should he be selected, will be tasked with stopping the Springboks’ imposing scrum that makes up a crucial component of their so-called “bomb squad”.

“It is clear they’ve got a good bench, and they do the damage when they come on,” Williams said.

“But for us on the bench, it’s whatever the team needs us to do whether it’s energy, our voice, energy from our ball-carrying, our set-piece. There’s a lot of talk about them, but we’ve just going to focus on ourselves and make sure we are primed and make an impact.”

Williams knows first-hand the threat they pose too, having made his debut against them in July at home.

So, what is distinctive about the Springboks and how do you stop them?

Advertisement

“They are massive and just how clinical they are. If you give them a chance, they’ll take it,” Williams said.

“For us, it is all about being clean and you just have to match the physicality.

“Everyone knows what they are going to bring, but it’s us that has to stop them. It’s been a great learning experience playing the Springboks. We had a good win against them and we got a hiding against them as well.”

If they manage to stop the Springboks from the source, the All Blacks will be all that much closer to moving ahead of their southern hemisphere rivals by claiming their fourth Webb Ellis Cup.

Should they do that, it won’t just be New Zealand applauding – but Williams’ friends and family in Perth, too.

close