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Liam Williams

Liam Williams during training.

The Liam Williams Interview

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Liam Williams will be at the centre of the action this weekend, but he was a fringe figure at this point of the season seven years ago.

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Relaxing on a sofa at Wales’ training base, Williams takes up the story: “I was 25th man in the 2012 Grand Slam-winning squad for the last game against France. I warmed up and I remember partying in the changing rooms after,” he said.

“I got a photo with Mike Phillips and James Hook. I was wearing my full kit. A few of the boys say now that I was doing a John Terry!

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“I always wanted to be one of the main guys when I was on the fringes. The Guinness Six Nations is one of the best tournaments in the world, but it’s not the same when you don’t take part.”

Seven years on, the 27-year-old Williams is now a fan’s favourite, a vital component of the Wales squad, and one of the most talented backs in global rugby.

A ball of energy on and off the field, half an hour in his company makes for enthralling conversation as Williams recounts his journey from scaffolder to international superstar, life in London with model girlfriend Sophie Harries, and what it means to him to represent his country on the Test stage alongside some of his best friends.

Williams made his Wales debut against the Barbarians in June 2012. It was a match that came just a matter of months after Sam Warburton’s men sealed that year’s Grand Slam.

In the time since Williams has progressed to win a total of 58 Test caps, three of which came for the British & Lions as their starting full-back in the 1-1 series draw with New Zealand in 2017.

He has gone to new heights in this year’s Six Nations, ruling the skies to produce an outstanding man-of-the-match display against England.

“I 100-per-cent feel more senior now. I’ve been here for the last seven or eight years and I’m one of the elder boys in the group,” Williams said. “It’s nice to see some of the boys coming through and into the squad even though some of them aren’t that much younger than me. I enjoy helping them out if they need it because they’re in a place now where I was a few years ago.

“I’m not part of the senior leadership group, but I love coming into the camp and spending time with the boys. I play my club rugby in England with Saracens so to come back to guys I grew up with and used to play with is great. We’re in a good place..”

He has started each game in the tournament to date at full-back and Wales have now won 13 straight matches which makes them statistically the best team in the country’s history.

His importance to Gatland was shown when Williams was forced off with a second-half injury in last weekend’s win over Scotland. Thankfully, any concerns of him missing Ireland were alleviated.
All is going well for Williams and he is busy both on and off the field with Wales.

“I’m in charge of the entertainment in the squad now,” he added. “The card school is going well, although I’m not sure Rob Evans or George North would agree, they’re not doing very well! I didn’t do a pool or darts tournament this camp. I thought we’d concentrate on the rugby, but a few of us enjoy chilling out on the PlayStation in the evening”.

Williams sports a  grin throughout this interview and the smile is a reflection of his happiness right now. It should also not detract from a man who is as serious as it gets when it comes to the day job. His performances in the Six Nations to date have been quite outstanding.

His and Wales’ next challenge is Ireland. It is one they are not taking lightly.

“Ireland were absolutely outstanding in the autumn. I didn’t think they played that badly against England, it was just England were on a different level that day,” Williams said.

“It will be a tough game. Joe Schmidt is a very clever coach and Johnny Sexton is always world class. We will have to look at their game plan, break that down, and negate their kicking strategy, which is huge for them. They are coming to our home and we are looking to put in another big shift.

“I was quite close to Johnny on the 2017 Lions tour as we were 10 and 15. I used to call him ‘coach’ all the time because he and Owen Farrell were like extra coaches to us, which was great.

“I obviously played with Conor Murray and a lot of the other Irish guys on that tour. Conor always puts a bit of side-spin on his box kicks if I remember correctly so I’ll have to have a word with him and ask if he can kick them straight for me.

“Both he and Johnny are great blokes, but when you play on the international scene you are enemies on the pitch and then you have a pint together afterwards.”

Wales’ only other home game of the tournament to date was against England and a 21-13 victory in round three followed away victories over France and Italy.

Scotland have also been surpassed on the road and Williams is hoping home advantage can again be to Wales’ gain when Ireland arrive. It promises to be some atmosphere in the Welsh capital.

“I was speaking to Prav Mathema, our Head of Medical, and he said the England game was the loudest he’s ever heard Principality Stadium when Josh Adams scored his try,” Williams added.

“I was jumping all over Josh and I almost did my knee in! The Welsh crowd is always electric. Just to see people’s faces in the crowd is unbelievable. We always work so hard in the down weeks to get fit and improve on the little things, which make a difference. That’s the reward we get at the end and it was one of the best feelings I’ve had on the pitch.”

Williams doesn’t mind being the subject of jokes when compared to former England footballer Terry, a man who famously celebrated Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League triumph in full kit despite being suspended for the final. Williams isn’t your typical modern-day rugby player. He missed out on the academy system and instead worked as a scaffolder at Tata Steel in Port Talbot.

A taste of real life before he progressed to become one of his country’s most famous faces means Williams relishes every moment. As he has said, he is “the scaffolder living the dream.”

“Living with Sophie is good. She’s a model in London and she’s away in Manchester or Spain quite a lot,” Williams added. “I didn’t like the hustle and bustle of it when we were doing the long distance thing as a couple at first, but now I’m used to it.

“Playing my rugby with Saracens is great and I’m lucky that both they and Wales are winning at the moment too. For me it’s a win-win.”

Williams is surrounded by a strong family network, including parents Brian and Jane. Both were present when he scored two tries on his 50th cap against Tonga in November.

They will be behind him once again against Ireland, as will an entire nation.

“From a team perspective we started the campaign pretty slowly, but in the game against England we played really well,” Williams added.

“I’ve never won the Six Nations so if I could, it would be indescribable and it would put us in great stead for the Rugby World Cup. It would be the biggest moment of my career along with playing for the Lions but it’s not just me, it would mean everything to everyone in the squad.”

This interview is an extract from the Wales v Ireland match programme, on sale tomorrow in and around Principality Stadium.

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