Williams buzzing for Bears showdown
By Mark Stevens
In Exeter they do not mind what their rugby players look like.
“We’re not big ones for the colour of a player’s boots or hairstyles or tattoos,” says Rob Baxter, the Chiefs director of rugby, glancing over at his distinctively pony-tailed, 20-stone prop Harry Williams.
“We’re happy for them to be their own men as long as they buy into what we want to achieve as a club. He can wear white boots and have whatever hairstyle he wants as long as he trains well and plays well.”
Since swapping island life in Jersey for that of Devon’s capital city back in the summer of 2015, London-born Williams hasn’t looked back, establishing himself not only as a key cog in the much-vaunted Chiefs pack, but also further afield where his on-field efforts have helped to obtain him 17 Test caps for England to date.
Some will say the 28-year-old forward was more than unlucky to miss out on England’s recent sojourn at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Having featured prominently for the Eddie Jones’ side over the past two years, his omission from the final 31-man squad was certainly one that raised a few eyebrows.
With Jones opting to select Harlequins tyro Kyle Sinckler, along with experienced Leicester Tigers Dan Cole as his two tight-head options, Williams could only watch on from the players’ lounge at Sandy Park last weekend as England battled it out for World Cup glory against the Springboks in Yokohama.
Sinckler’s final experience lasted no more than two minutes before he was forced off with a head injury, whilst Cole was put to the sword in the set-piece exchanges as South Africa eventually went on to triumph 32-12.
A day on from that defeat, Williams was himself lining up for the Chiefs in their latest Gallagher Premiership encounter away to Worcester Warriors. Undone the previous week at Bath - and not entirely convincing in their seasonal opener against Harlequins - it was a testing away-day assignment for Baxter’s side.
Trailing 17-3 with half time approaching at Sixways, the latest picture hardly looked appealing for the visitors. However, Jack Maunder’s try with the last action of the half proved decisive, giving the Chiefs the boost they craved heading into the break.
The second half, thankfully, proved more fruitful as first former Worcester favourite Matt Kvesic rumbled over from close range, before Williams himself claimed the all-important, match-winning score with just five minutes remaining.
Finishing off a staggering 32-phase move from the Devonians, it proved a telling knockout blow that will no doubt serve the Chiefs well moving forward.
“We were slow out of the blocks,” admitted Williams post-match. “But, we built into things the more the game went on. We came back from two tries down and come the end there was a real good feeling around the team. It was just what we needed!”
Having failed to deliver eight days earlier against Bath, Williams admitted there had been some tough-talking about the place in a bid to rectify what was a rare, in-disciplined display.
“None of us were happy,” he said. “We’d been wearing it a bit all week. As a collective we were frustrated with the Bath performance and we wanted to go out and put on the best display we could for ourselves and the Exeter faithful. It was a lot better.”
Not that Williams or his team-mates will be thinking the job is done by any stretch of the imagination following Sunday’s success. Instead, the focus will be on Sunday’s visit of near neighbours Bristol Bears.
“They are definitely going well, they’ve had two good wins against Bath and Sale,” warned Williams. “But, like I said, we’ve got a buzz about ourselves as well now. Worcester are a really gutsy team and we had to work hard for that win. I think that’s the fourth time I’ve played up there and every team it’s never been easy.
“What I liked about us, though, was that we didn’t panic. That score we had just before half time was important, but we came in and there was a real buzz that we wanted to get back out there again and finish the job. As the second half went on, we were gaining momentum. If there was a mistake, it didn’t really faze us, we worked through it and, thankfully, we got there in the end.”
More of the same will be required from Williams and his fellow Chiefs, who it seems are hell-bent on making up for the disappointment of another Twickenham defeat to Saracens back in June.
As always hard work will be the key ingredient for the Chiefs as they look to mount their charge on three different fronts this season. Already, a last four place in the Premiership Rugby Cup has been assured, whilst the club’s next European escapade begins next week with a trip across the English Channel to face La Rochelle in the opening round of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Much will be entrusted into Williams over the course of the season by Baxter, whose shrewd eye was able to pluck the hard-working prop out of the Championship all those years ago.
“The nicest thing from my perspective is that he’s worked extremely hard,” said Baxter. “From day one coming in from Jersey he’s done a lot of extras. He’s not just someone who rocks up at training, runs around a bit with the lads and then goes out and plays. He’s very diligent and passionate about what he’s doing. I’m much happier when players like Harry get recognition because I know how hard they’ve worked.”