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FEATURE Tomos Williams possesses the x-factor to rock Twickenham to its foundations

Tomos Williams possesses the x-factor to rock Twickenham to its foundations
4 months ago

A peek behind the curtain of the recent Full Contact documentary – there was a lot of footage that didn’t make the final cut.

During a day of filming I was asked to describe each rugby position to a new Netflix audience. Scrum half? Easy. The fulcrum around which a team plays; someone who controls the tempo, the director of traffic, a conductor, a pest, someone assertive enough to shepherd the bigger beasts around the park. Had that recording taken place today, I may have pointed to Tomos Williams’ whip-smart performance on Saturday. Tactically astute, identifying the best options under pressure – the pressure of a 27-point Scottish lead, no less.

Williams’ fast paced and fearless partnership with Ioan Lloyd led to a second-half transformation on the field and some hasty rewording of post-match questions and match reports off it. Were both sides disappointed, or contented, as the hosts finished one point short of pulling off what would have been the greatest Tier-one-versus-Tier-one comeback win of all time?

It was a long, arching pass from Williams that put Dyer through to score what would be the first of four tries in a twenty-minute blitz. But his contribution doesn’t need to be quantified by simple statistics. According to former Wales fly-half Nicky Robinson, his influence had more subtleties.

“His intent to move the ball, to pull defenders in, to go down short sides. His decision-making was flawless against Scotland. Yes Wales had more possession and were starting winning their line-outs, but he made the most of that freedom and played how he wanted to. That’s the kind of player you want on the park.’’

Tomos Williams
Tomos Williams made a huge difference to Wales when he entered the fray against Scotland (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The kind of player the team needed, the kind of game Williams relished? Well, his attack coach at Cardiff and former Wales scrum-half Richie Rees was part of the dramatic 2010 comeback against Scotland, summoned to the field as his side were trailing by a mere 17 points.

“In some ways it’s the perfect situation as a half-back, chasing a high deficit. For Tomos it suited his strong mindedness, to play, to speed it up. But his kicking game shouldn’t be overlooked. His kicking game was excellent. He kicked long and he kicked accurately.”

Perception is hard to shake off in rugby and often misleading – players are pigeonholed as pragmatic’ or ‘a maverick’. The agreed thinking in rugby goes that pick the practical option to start the match and a super sub’ to finish. Any perception of Williams being just an attacking nine without the game management isn’t accurate, according to Robinson.

“His talent was clear from an early age – how well he attacks, his speed around the breakdown. He then worked on his kicking game because that was one of his weaknesses – he was told that by Warren Gatland. I think during that period he sometimes forgot about how good he was in attack. He was concentrating on his kicking and lost a bit of his attacking edge. I think he’s found that again. I love what he brings and how much he’ll test defences. I think he’s now at a point where he’s got the all-round game to be one of the best No 9s in world rugby.”

We play a game to suit Tomos. It’s about kicking intelligently. Having a short attacking kicking game suits his skillset to kick off both feet on either side of the field. We manipulate line out plays to maximise Tomos’ strengths.

Richie Rees, Cardiff backs coach

Robinson feels an impending move to English Premiership side Gloucester will aid his development but for now he’ll see out the season at the Arms Park –  which has enjoyed some of the most electric atmospheres in the most challenging of circumstances this season.

Cardiff are 12th in the URC but only four points off eighth place and crucially have taken at least a point from every league match, while their five losses have come by an average of five points. Attacking running rugby has been lighting up the iconic ground, so it may come as a surprise to some that no URC team has kicked more this season.

“We play a game to suit Tomos,” adds Rees. “It’s about kicking intelligently. Having a short attacking kicking game suits his skillset to kick off both feet on either side of the field. We manipulate line out plays to maximise Tomos’ strengths.”

Tomos Williams
Williams has been in electric form for Cardiff this season (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/Getty Images)

Along with his kicking and game management, Williams has also developed his captaincy skills – a role he’s shared alongside Liam Belcher this year. 

“His influence has been outstanding,” says Rees. “When the Cardiff squad returned to train at the start of the season they did so without an official coaching team in place. Dai Young had been suspended, defence coach Richard Hodges had left for Zebre, with forwards coach T Rhys Thomas joining Gloucester. Tightened budgets saw them unable to offer competitive contracts to players with fewer than 20 making up training numbers.

He is leader in Warren Gatland’s Wales. At the age of 29 years-old he’s a vital cog in the next four year cycle. On Saturday, at Twickenham he’ll win his 55th cap.

“We as a region lost 19 players last season including Williams’ half-back partner of 11 years (Jarrod Evans). I honestly can’t credit him enough for the way he is driving standards off the field.  Whether it’s in team meetings or in sessions. It’s the part of his personality no one sees. On the field, I think is game understanding is definitely understated.”

Undoubtedly he is leader too for Gatland’s Wales. At the age of 29 he’s a vital cog in the next four year cycle. On Saturday, at Twickenham he’ll win his 55th cap, but make only his 29th start due to the prevalence of the stalwart Gareth Davies. 

So if Cardiff are playing to his strengths, should Wales?

Tomos Williams
Williams is the third most experienced member of the Welsh squad to travel to Twickenham (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“Why not? He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever come across. So long as he doesn’t lose his speed and lateral footwork, he can only get better,” quips Rees. There are no signs of those attributes diminishing anytime soon. 

Williams will travel to Twickenham as the third most capped player of the matchday 23, behind George North and Josh Adams. The team’s last victory at the venue featured some scrum-half sorcery as Lloyd Williams’ superb kick on the left wing set up Gareth Davies for a match-winning try. Having gained the starting jersey back, could the trickster from Treorchy conjure up another bit of magic to add to the annals of Welsh rugby history? Stranger things have happened.

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