WELCOME TO OUR WORLD 1 - Liam Williams
August 4 2017
The first in a series of articles about the players who are joining Saracens this season. We begin with Liam Williams. How do you replace the irreplaceable? Although Chris Ashton’s boots will be hard to fill, Saracens’ new recruit Liam Williams will have a pretty good chance of making them fit when he joins Sarries for the new season fresh from a very successful trip to New Zealand with the Lions where he really came of age.
Liam did not follow the usual route into professional rugby. He was born in Swansea in April 1991 (gosh that makes me feel old). He had a head for heights: he worked for 3 years as a scaffolder for Margam steel while playing youth rugby for his local club Waunarlwydd RFC. “The highest I climbed was about 250ft and you are just looking down at the floor. I worked on the top of the blast furnace and that may be a bit higher again. It was fine,” he said. “Dan Biggar still takes the piss, telling everyone that I am the scaffolder living the dream. The way I am means I am never afraid to go up for a high ball: if I am going to get hurt does not matter, taking a catch or making a tackle is about helping the team. I don’t know if it is reckless; it’s just me.”
He was spotted by scouts from Llanelli and was watched in the Tovali Cup Final. Llanelli’s then head coach, Kevin George recalled ““It was the ferocity of his game, in attack and defence. ADVERTISEMENT
There wasn’t much of him, but he looked to win every collision, there was a bloody-mindedness about him and he had the skill set as well.” He was invited to train with Llanelli that summer and made his semi-professional debut in 2009-10. He played for Llanelli 22 times that season before graduating to the regional team Scarlets. He was also recognised by Wales U20’s, playing for them 8 times and scoring 3 tries. Liam was also a pretty good footballer: he played in goal (he has big hands) and played for West End and Garden Village, 2 Swansea teams. He said: “I’d love to have a try-out with the Swans. It was a big decision to choose rugby ahead of football but I guess I preferred the rough and tumble of union.” He was also a decent cricketer, a talented all-rounder. He played for west Glamorgan at the age of 16 but he commented that once he started playing rugby, his shoulders hurt and he couldn’t bowl.
Liam made his first Scarlets start against Connacht at Galway’s Sportsground at the start of the 2011-12 season, lining up on the wing. His coach at the time, Wayne Pivac, said “If we could bottle what Liam brings to a game and share it across the other 14 players we would be in a pretty good state".After four tries in eight starts he was called up to Warren Gatland’s national squad for the Autumn internationals, but had to wait for the summer Test against the Barbarians in Cardiff for his first cap. At the age of just 20, Scarlets boss, Nigel Davies, likened him to the legendary JPR Williams. In response, Liam said “To be compared to JPR is unbelievable and that compliment really came out of the blue. It is incredible to be spoken about in the same breath as a legend like that. I can't really explain it, I have just taken my chances when they have come my way.”Since then he has gone from strength to strength, representing Wales 43 times and amassing 8 tries. He continued to represent Scarlets, appearing for them in over 100 matches. Sadly a foot injury reduced his opportunities last season but he still helped Scarlets to the Pro12 Championship title in 2017 when they comprehensively defeated Munster in the final, scoring Scarlets’ first try. Liam’s injury during Saracens 44-26 win over Scarlets last autumn almost certainly eased Sarries passage on their route to retaining the European Cup.
He was selected in Warren Gatland’s Lions Squad in April this year. His old club, Waun, were delighted and said: “The club is extremely proud that a player from Waun, Liam Williams, has been selected for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand 2017. Other than a very, very, tenuous link with Mervyn Davies who apparently trained with Waun but wasn't selected - I said it was tenuous!! - Liam (Sanjay) Williams is the first player from Waun to be selected for the Lions squad and will hopefully also get a test cap or three. Good luck Sanjay, from all at Waun RFC”
He toured New Zealand with the Lions, travelling out as a fringe player but taking his opportunity with both hands when George North was ruled out. In the first test, he created one of the finest tries ever scored by the Lions; receiving a pass from Anthony Watson in his own 22, he swerved past Kieran Read ran 80m before Jonathan Davies & Elliot Daly combined for Sean O’Brien to score a wonder try. He played in all 3 test matches enhancing his reputation down under to the extent that Chris Rattue, a member of the noticeably hostile New Zealand press said of him“he can spot a hole faster than a desperate dentist”.
Liam’s decision to join Sarries was not just a financial one. He has a high profile girlfriend, Sophie Harries, who relocated to London to follow a modelling career and their long distance relationship was not easy. Moving to London was a “no-brainer”. Liam and Sophie have been called rugby’s “Posh and Becks”. Nevertheless Scarlets were sorry to see him go. His unorthodox bandy-legged running style, his never-say-die attitude and his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve were all popular with Scarlets’ supporters.
He is variously nicknamed “Sanjay” because of his resemblance to the former East Enders character, and “Hollywood” because of his lifestyle. But first and foremost he is a superb rugby player. He is equally at home at fullback or on the wing. He plays intelligent heads-up rugby and is quick to spot a mismatch. He offloads well and he calls himself “the bomb defuser” because of his ability to cope with the high ball.
Staff at Scarlets paid tribute to Liam. Coach Stephen Jones said: “All I can say is Saracens are very lucky to have him. What a wonderful player and what a wonderful Scarlet he has been, an absolute pleasure to work with. His work rate is phenomenal and he is good, good guy.”
And team mate James Davies commented: “He is a leader for us, he punches above his weight massively, it is credit to him where he has come from and what he has done because he didn’t come through the Academy route. His personality around the group is huge and the fans love him. He will be an incredible miss for us, but it’s a great move for him.”
On his move to Saracens, Liam didn’t quite learn his lines properly, saying “I am really excited about joining Saracens and having the opportunity to challenge myself in the Aviva Premiership. The club's reputation speaks for itself and I am looking forward to the next chapter of my career.” (No something special then?) In joining Sarries, Liam risks his International career with Wales as he will have to rely on one of 4 wild card picks however in his current form, he will be extremely difficult to overlook.pqs: qs:
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:08:16:21:18:56 by Darraghgirl.
Points win matches: tries win hearts and minds.