By RICHARD KNOWLER, The Press
Friday, 18 January 2008
The sight of Ali Williams in Crusaders colours this season will prove almost surreal.
In recent years only one other player has been able to generate more feelings of angst among Canterbury diehard supporters and that was Williams' former Auckland and Blues team-mate Carlos Spencer.
Spencer, the man who went head to head against Canterbury's Andrew Mehrtens for the All Blacks' No. 10 spot, often earned the Christchurch crowd's wrath for his flamboyant haircuts and sledging of players but it was his popping of the bird to it in 2004 that had some fans frothing in apoplectic anger.
So when Spencer left Auckland for England in 2004, Cantabrians had to find someone else to set their sights on.
For many, Williams proved an easy target.
In 2005, in a Super 12 match between the Blues and the Crusaders, the frustrated lock was sent off for raking Richie McCaw's head in a ruck at Eden Park and was subsequently suspended - somewhat harshly - for six weeks. In Crusaders territory, Williams became public enemy No. 1; no-one dares ruck the head of the golden boy and gets away with it.
Predictably, the radio talkback lines sizzled as angry punters vented their spleens.
How times have changed. Williams, recruited to fill the space left by fellow All Black second rower, Chris Jack, is now a Crusader.
After his falling out with Blues coach David Nucifora, when he was sent home before the Super 14 semi-final match against the Sharks in Durban last year, Williams was snapped up by Robbie Deans. His defection from the Blues is a big gain for outgoing Crusaders coach Deans, but the 2.02m lock says he harbours no desire to make Nucifora rue the day he forced his hand.
"I am down here to give my services to the Crusaders and hopefully leave them in a better state than what they were. That's a pretty hard task with their record. I think too many people think I have come down here for my own personal things as well. It's neutral ground. I hope both parties benefit."
When Williams was sent home the news topped most bulletins and created speculation that his World Cup spot was in jeopardy. All Blacks coach Graham Henry ignored the dramas. Williams was always certain to travel to the World Cup, proved the team's best performer and was rated as one of the global tournament's top locks.
"It's just one of those things that happened," Williams said referring to his bust-up with Nucifora. I just want to play rugby. As much as I am caught in the s... with the media and all that crap, I don't actually apply for it. It just happens. I am who I am and I don't believe in being the `ideal person'. I would rather be the person that I am."
Williams has signed with Tasman and despite speculation he may return to Auckland for the Air New Zealand Cup, he says he has not decided which province he will represent later in the year. Although he has had his brushes with the management of the Blues, he says he is no wild man.
"No, I'm not. I'm portrayed as a bit of a clown and a goose but I just have fun and when the time is right and when the time is right to get serious I do that," Williams says. "I have found that it has taken me a few years to do that but now I'm in a good place to do that."
Despite the ban for rucking McCaw in 2005, Williams and the All Blacks and Crusaders skipper are good friends and are flatting together in Christchurch.
A keen fisherman who likes to hook snapper, he hopes to get an opportunity to try his hand at catching salmon in the South Island.
And Williams' new allegiance to the Crusaders means there should be the added benefit of not having to cop flak in the city's bars and clubs after matches.
Although he believes the ribbing is worse following provincial matches between arch-rivals Canterbury and Auckland, the Blues players have always been aware they were in hostile territory.
He wants the change in colours to lead to him being given a friendlier reception from the Crusaders faithful.
"I might be able to come down here and someone will talk to me and say `well played' or something like that -- not like that I would like to shoot you, or `you are a f... wit' and that sort of stuff. But that's Canterbury and that's what you expect when you come down here. If you didn't get that you would feel almost welcome ... A lot of teams fear it (playing in Christchurch) because not only of the team on the field but the passion the fans have. I reckon it will be great and have people supporting you instead of trying to bag you."
Pics found on photosport.co.nz
Article sent by Izzy
Video sent by Siska
NB : the 2007 Baby Richie Degree has been updated ;) Enjoy your weekend (last day of the 1st round of the European cup over here!)