In the next instalment of our RugbyPass Legends series, Martin Devlin sits down for a two-part interview with 77-Test former All Blacks lock Ali Williams. In the exclusive interview, Williams discusses the ethos of the All Blacks, lessons learned from the shock 2007 World Cup defeat at the hands of France and the decision to stay in New Zealand for another World Cup run in 2011.
Former Test lock Ali Williams has detailed the changes in preparation the All Blacks underwent when avenging their infamous 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit four years later.
Williams spoke about transforming pressure into privilege as the All Blacks set off towards World Cup glory in 2011, their first title since 1987.
“Let’s walk towards it rather than shy away,” Williams told Martin Devlin in an exclusive interview with RugbyPass.
“Graham Henry put himself out there. Put himself through all that pain knowing what had happened when we’d failed, to do it again.”
“The elements were huge, it was a lot more than just ‘here we go, let’s go for another one [World Cup]’. It was very big,” he continued.
“That was from CEO level all the way down. We picked on character. In some positions where you’d think ‘well, no, he’s the best player’ but we actually picked on character because we knew the character was what was going to get us through in those tough moments.”
With Auckland hosting the World Cup in 2011, Williams also provided insight into how the All Blacks kept everything in check both personally and as a team.
“During that period, leading up to it we tried to get everyone inclusive. We tried to get the hype of the city,” Williams explained.
“We [then] had to go a bit internal and concentrate a bit on our own being. We had to create our own fun internally rather than publicly looking like we’re having a lot of fun.”
Williams then retold how All Blacks captain Richie McCaw prepared as the tournament reached its later stages.
“Richie, one of my good mates, and he sits behind me in the bus,” Williams said. “He sits behind me and during the Cup it was literally like ‘mate, talk to me when you’re relaxed’. For that four – probably five – weeks we didn’t talk much. He was just so – doing his own thing, internally focused.”
To Williams’ surprise, McCaw eventually broke his silence.
“I think it was the semi-final, he came up and said ‘hey mate’ and I said ‘oh you’re back, nice to meet you, good to see you.’ That was just how he was dealing with it. He obviously had high pressure on his shoulders.”
Williams also acknowledged McCaw as one of his heroes.
“It was just the way that he would go about doing things,” Williams said. “He was very understated, just got it done and as you say, he was tough.”
“I knew him a lot better than a lot of others so you could also see how he did things. And you also knew that he wasn’t immortal. It wasn’t all just natural, it wasn’t all just gifted. We worked really really hard to one; be in that position, two; be able to mentally handle it and three; push on past and try and be someone that potentially he’s not naturally.
“He is to me, a great mate and an inspiration to all including myself.”
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