BY NICK MCCASHIN
(Guest writer, http://www.professionalrugby.club/)
Paul Williams is a Samoan International and son of All Black legend Bryan Williams. Standing at 6 foot 2 and 105kg Paul is a very intimidating player to tackle for the average man.
He possess the skill, power and pace of a world class fullback and through his career has had 38 provincial caps for Canterbury and Auckland, 43 Super Rugby Caps for the Highlanders, Crusaders and Blues, 19 caps in the English Premiership with Sale Sharks, 60 caps in the Top 14 French competition with Stade Francais and 18 caps at International level for Samoa.
Born and raised in Auckland New Zealand and 1 of 4 (1 Brother and 2 Sisters) entered the game as a 6 year old with Auckland club Ponsonby. Living alongside a park and playing with his older brother and friends was the starting point for his career.
I was lucky enough to play alongside Paul at club level and against him at Provincial. I much preferred it when he was on my team. Not only is he a top level athlete he is a family man, great guy and very humble.
Recently I caught up with Paul to ask him a few questions, please enjoy.
Firstly Paul you have had a lot of success in Rugby. What has contributed to that success?
I feel I have a fairly good work ethic and can demand high standards of myself. I am lucky to have a supportive family who have encouraged me and helped me focus on rugby.
Early in your career you had a few set backs with regards to injury. Can you tell us a little about your experience and what your thought process was?
7 games into my debut Super Rugby season with the Highlanders I managed to break my leg (compound fracture of the tibia and fibula) playing against the Blues- a small consolation was that it was the only defeat the Blues had that season.
Typically it is roughly a 6-month injury, but it ended up being over 2 years before I would attempt to play again and with the leg still not being right, 3 years before I was able to resume my career. I would have seen 3-4 surgeons, 4 or more sports doctors and about the same again for sport physios but they all didn’t manage to diagnose that I had a low grade infection (from the dirty wound at the initial injury) which was preventing the bones healing and causing my discomfort. The infection was picked up by a simple blood test.
I ended up having 5 operations (along with 1 or 2 other periods of immobilizing the leg)- 2 operations at the time of injury to place a rod in the Tibia and to clean the wound, 1 operation to re-break and plate the fibula, 1 operation to remove the locking screws at the ends of the Tibial rod, and 1 operation to remove all the metalware once the infection was discovered. I went on IV anti-biotics for 2 weeks and after this final operation it was a matter of weeks before I was back playing.
Having been on contract for Auckland for most of this injury period, they were understandably not interested to resign me, but I was lucky enough to be presented with the opportunity to sign with Canterbury for 3 years. I resumed my pro career with the Canterbury NPC team in 2006, and was selected in the Crusaders 2007 squad but didn’t take the field (I needed a fair bit of time to get the body and mind back up to speed).
Drafted back down to the Highlanders for 2008 I played every game, was named their Back of the Year and was selected in the All Blacks training squad before the IVECO June test series against England, as well as being called in to the squad to cover injury during that series. I actually warmed up with the team and would have played if Mils Muliaina hadn’t got through the warm-up (he had a hamstring niggle).
The 3 year injury period was certainly a challenging time. The medics often had the opinion that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be back to full fitness in a relatively short time (say 4-6 weeks), I was selected with the Highlanders in 2004, Blues Development 2005, and the Highlanders again in 2006. This was a double-edged sword- being around these professional teams meant I had access to great sports medicine and trainers, but it was also a very long time not really feeling a full part of the group and doing all the hard conditioning only for setbacks to deem it useless. With all my long term injuries I like to immediately try and break the time down into smaller targets and goals- For example, when I want to be off crutches, walking, jogging, running, game simulation,etc. This is also set with measurable strength and fitness goals in the gym.
What exercises did you do that helped you return to full fitness and advice for young players?
I have always followed quite closely the advise of the medics as far as rehab goes. After my experience with my leg I have also certainly learnt to question a lot of things and not simply accept every medical professionals opinion as the right one.
A big part of the rehab for this injury was strength work for the legs, in particular trying to rebuild the size of the quads and calf muscle, and a lot of proprioception and balance work.
I am of the opinion that young players are lifting far too heavy without the right focus on technique. At 18 I already had stress fractures of the lower back. This saw me spend some valuable time learning about the core, posture, and transverse abdominals. I would highly recommend to young players to learn these pilates type exercises and related movements where your focusing on controlling your posture and core.
Why did you decide to leave New Zealand rugby and play abroad?
As I began to be aware that I could make a living out of rugby I also knew of the opportunity to travel and play overseas and this idea was always attractive to me. I already had my brother playing in France after having enjoyed stints in Italy and Ireland. He was also playing for Samoa which presented the opportunity to both play test football together.
I had come to the conclusion through missed opportunities, selections and form that the All Blacks had most likely passed me by, and the opportunity to play at the 2011 Rugby World Cup for Samoa was a big draw card which saw me debut for them at the end of 2010. Dad had coached Samoa for 10 years, so growing up I followed the Samoa team very closely and looked up to many of the players.
You have played in New Zealand and abroad specifically Sale and with Stade Francais. What are the differences in competitions? Players, pace, skill if any?
Its always difficult to compare across competitions and countries as its very dependent on what team you link up with. The year I joined Sale they had 18 new players, the coach got sacked mid-way through the year and 24 of us left at the end of the season! It was a similar turnover of players and coaches at Stade Francais for my first 2-3 seasons, along with playing out of a temporary stadium while the teams traditional stadium got demolished and re-built. So its difficult to make sweeping statements as certainly not all teams were going through these issues.
The advantage New Zealand has compared to the English and French competitions is the standard of coaching and player development. I believe this benefits the players to have a greater understanding of the game and they have been challenged to develop their skills to be able to play a more expansive style of rugby, which is regularly demonstrated by the dominance of the All Blacks. There are some very good players in England and France and I believe the standard of rugby is very high but there are players in both competitions without the depth of understanding of the game which both presents opportunities for opponents to expose and limits the ability of some teams. A reason NZ coaches are so sort after abroad.
What are your plans for the future? What would you like to do after rugby?
I am currently nearing the end of my 13/14 professional season. I can see myself continuing for a few years yet by which time I look forward to a great long holiday and enjoying retirement! I have a young family and I have a great desire to be as involved as I can be and help my kids early childhood development. My wife Helen is keen to resume her working career, so after having her following me and my career around i’m happy to have her work opportunities dictate whats next for us and I will find something to do along the way. Perhaps putting my business studies (completed a Bachelor of Business degree, majoring in accounting through Auckland University of Technology) to use in some form of eco-friendly business or get involved in a community development type role.
If you would like to check out more interviews and stories by Nick McCashin you find them at www.professionalrugby.club