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Ali Williams: Time for new All Blacks to make their mark

In his first exclusive column for RugbyPass, Ali Williams recalls the first time he was named an All Black and offers congratulations to the new recruits.

Being named an All Black is a special moment and it affects everyone that has been involved in your rugby career.

I started playing rugby at 16, and everyone around me got invested once I decided to turn my attention towards the sport. When I was first named an All Black I’d only been playing professional rugby for about two years, and when you’re first named everyone who had helped you reach that point are the first ones there to congratulate you. Your 1st XV coaches ring you, your headmaster, your first senior coach, your provincial coach, family and friends. All these people ring you, and it’s a reward for what they’ve done as part of your career.

Leading up to the team being named, there’s all the media and the hype and the speculation but when you’re actually in it, you don’t even look at it. Everyone else looks at it and then tells you about it.

Everyone wants to be named, it’s quite clear, so when it does happen it can come as a major surprise, especially in my case.

I was 20 years old, I’d only played one year of Super Rugby and one year of provincial rugby. At the end of my first year of NPC in 2001, I’d heard rumblings of ‘oh he could be a bolter, he could do this’. My first thought was ‘that’s unrealistic’.

I didn’t make it in that year, they picked some guy named Chris Jack, but the following year I had a good Super Rugby season – I played a little bit but I wasn’t a main starter – and I won the NPC with Auckland. We had a big after-party on Waiheke Island. I’d snuck off to the Portaloo – that’s how we do it in New Zealand, we don’t have proper toilets sometimes – came back and the team for the All Blacks’ End of Year tour had been named.

There were your regulars, or your guys that were ‘shoulder-tapped’. Before, you didn’t get shoulder-tapped or you didn’t have the communication with the All Black coaches, whereas now it’s a lot more obvious that coaches are looking at you when you’re called in for a camp in the middle of the season. These guys have had about three camps this year – foundation days – so you can get in and around the environment. Back then we didn’t have that.

So, my name gets called out while I’m on the Portaloo, then I came out and all the guys were giving me a bit of grief, ‘Oh yeah, you’re in the All Blacks,’ you think it’s all just tongue-in-cheek. Reality only set in when my coach, Wayne Pivac, came up to me and said ‘Look mate, genuinely, you’re in there, you’ve got to assemble tomorrow’. A few weeks later I made my test debut against England.

Being named will always remain very special for a lot of people. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first naming or your tenth. We would still text each other – Richie, Dan, myself, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu – we’d just text each other a ‘well done mate’.

There was still that real sense of ‘I’ve made it’, because within the team we created an attitude that nothing was given, and you can’t take anything for granted. The coaches would reiterate that.

After being named there would be some very happy families, happy kids, all happy for these men that have put in the hard work. At the end of the day only they know what they’ve put in. Jordan Taufua is a prime example. He’s been there or thereabouts for probably five or six years now. A guy that’s put his body on the line, mentally invested into going somewhere with rugby.

I’ve played with the kid and he is very energetic. He physically wanted to dominate. Someone like that would just be over the moon, and now it gets even more exciting as he looks towards the challenges ahead of him and gets his opportunity to show what he can do at the next level.

As for Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, he has done very well in being named. I actually met one of his cousins and they were having a big congratulations ceremony, so you could see the cultural aspect coming into it there.

It’s still a very sacred moment for a lot of people, new and seasoned All Blacks so congratulations to all of them. They’re part of the club now.

As I say, sometimes the easy part is getting in, the hard part is doing something when you’re in there. There’s no point in just wearing the jersey, you’ve got to leave it in a better state than when you received it. The challenge is there, this new group is taking it further than we did, constantly evolving, and I’m excited to see what the three new All Blacks can add to the team.

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Ali Williams: Time for new All Blacks to make their mark | RugbyPass