New Blues captain Ali Williams is so excited about the upcoming season you just can’t keep him away.
The 77-Test veteran isn’t due back in camp until the end of January as the All Blacks are given an extended break, but he chose to rejoin the team for their first week back this week as preparations ramp up for the 2013 Investec Super Rugby competition.
With Keven Mealamu taking a well deserved rest and missing the first month of the competition, Williams has taken the reigns as captain and is eager to get stuck in.
“It’s a great opportunity and privilege for me to be a captain and lead this team,” Williams said.
“I think you’ve got to lead by example, not by words so I need to be here from the start. I got injured last year so I had my break then and it’s good for me personally too. I need to get to the peak of my fitness and being around the team there’s a really exciting vibe so you can sense you’re helping build a great team. I thought it was logical to come in early rather than having an extra month or so off.”
Indeed in the 12 years he has played Super Rugby, Williams said he had never been more excited about a season than the one that lies ahead.
There is a strong sense that the added responsibilities of captaining a young and inexperienced Blues outfit could be the making of Williams in 2013.
With the squad boasting an average age of just 23, 31-year-old Williams, with 101 Super Rugby caps is one of the few elder statesmen in the team.
He doesn’t shy away from the fact he is nearing the twilight years of his playing career, but pulling on the captain’s armband may be just the thing to invigorate the 2.02m lock.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about a season than I have about this one,” Williams said.
“A) because it’s a whole new challenge for me as captain, but B) because I’m at that stage of my career where I just want to play the game and I want to play it to the best of my abilities so when the time comes I can sit back and say I had a good gig and now I’m going to do something else, because you live with the regret for the rest of your life.
“I don’t want to leave any stone unturned which is what I’m doing now so the next few months is about getting fit and getting an organised, passionate team together that really wants to play. We’re creating a pretty determined group, or a tribe as we call it, of people that want to drive what is going to be a winning culture.”
It is Williams’ first captaincy assignment since leading the Auckland Under-19s and so far he is relishing the challenge.
“At the moment it’s just a lot of organising and getting things to a situation where you can relinquish not so much the control but give players more ownership. We’re getting those areas tidied up now which you do at the start and then from here you sit back and take more of an overview and see where can we generally improve all over the board rather than just in specific areas so I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
“It’s going to take a lot of work but at this stage of my life it’s what I need and I’m loving it so far. At the end of the day I just want to see the team do well and I want to see individuals in the team push their cases for higher honours. But I also want them to run out when they’re wearing a Blues jersey and say ‘this is the team I really want to play for’, regardless of which Provincial Union they come from.”
Williams’ passion for the franchise is undeniable which is perhaps why he and new coach Sir John Kirwan make such great partners ñ they both share a fervent desire to return the Blues to their rightful place as Super Rugby champions and bring back their fans.
“There’s no hiding JK’s passion for the team, everyone can see that and he’s shown that over the years and I believe it’s something I’ve shown as well,” Williams said.
“I love this region and I think it’s about time we start giving back to the people that have supported us through thick and thin and hopefully this is going to be our year.”
The Blues have just over three weeks to prepare before they face 2011 Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds on February 2 in Toowoomba, in the first of three pre-season fixtures.