Williams set his sights high
By Mark Stevens
This time four years ago, Harry Williams was strolling into Sandy Park for the first time, one of 11 new faces brought to Exeter by Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter that summer.
A relative unknown to many, the long-haired prop had been hand selected by Baxter and his fellow coaches having produced a string of top-notch displays for the Islanders in the Championship.
They spotted a player with not only a huge amount of potential to exploit, but someone who would happily go about his on-field business with minimal fuss, yet optimum efficiency.
Although it would take until January 2016 for Williams to make his Chiefs bow – that was in a Champions Cup encounter against the Ospreys – the Londoner has not looked back since.
Not only has the talented tight-head established himself as a first-team regular within the Chiefs ranks, even helping them to Premiership glory in 2017, but his showings have also elevated him into the international picture, where he has now accrued 17 Test caps under the stewardship of Eddie Jones.
It’s been a remarkable rise to prominence for the 27-year-old, who checked into his native London last weekend as one of five current Chiefs named in Jones’ official England training squad for this summer’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Over the coming weeks, Williams will be battle it out with Leicester’s Dan Cole and Kyle Sinckler of Harlequins to secure his place on the plane to the Far East, where England have been pitted in Pool C and will face Argentina, France, Tonga and USA in the pool stages.
Williams, though, insists he has never been in better shape and having rested up having narrowly out on success in last month’s Gallagher Premiership Final against Saracens, he is determined to make the most of the opportunity afforded to him.
“I’ve been able to rest and rejuvenate since the Premiership final and things are really kicking off now, so it’s very exciting,” he told the Rugby Paper.
“It feels strange because my first pre-season with Exeter after I joined from Jersey coincided with England’s preparation for the last World Cup. It feels like I’ve come full circle now, from someone who came out of the Championship into being involved properly for the first time with a Premiership team, to being involved with England while all the others are back at the club in pre-season there.”
Aside from those selected for various World Cup camps and those involved in the recent England Under-20s Junior World Championship, the majority of the Chiefs first team squad reported back for pre-season this week.
However, such is the nature of a professional rugby player these days, down time is short and sweet and although it’s been five weeks since the Chiefs appeared at Twickenham in the end of season showpiece, the hard work has continued behind the scenes.
“Physically, I’m in a really good place,” added Williams. “It took a long time to get over our final defeat to Saracens. I’ll admit it, I was gutted. But I got away, unwound and I feel in a really decent space now to go into camp and give a very good account of myself.
“There’s tight-head competition in guys like Dan Cole and Kyle Sinckler, for sure, buy I’m not worried about other people, I’ll just train as well as I can. It’s been a cool four years for me since Jersey – awesome really – and I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity. I’ll just do my best for England now.”
And while England is Williams’ immediate priority, the manner of Exeter’s latest Twickenham defeat to Saracens still rankles somewhat.
“We did so much right. But the frustration comes from knowing that we had lapses of concentration at key times,” continued Williams. “To be fair to Saracens, they stayed in the contest and came out with the win. I’m still irritated that we let it slip.
“It was kind of the story of our season because in some of the big games we played well and were plucky, but we didn’t come away with the result. In the final we’d score a try and then allow Saracens to score immediately after, which you can’t do.
“Those are the must-win games, but against Munster home, Munster away, and then Saracens in the final, we were in good positions but didn’t win one of them. We need to be cleaner and tighter in those big moments if we’re going to win silverware.”