Nick Williams on move again after inspirational stint at Ulster
Published 24/12/2015 | 02:30
It is probably fair to say that while Munster witnessed the worst of Nick Williams, Ulster undoubtedly witnessed the best.
In the current debate about inter-provincial transfers, Williams, who yesterday confirmed his intention to leave Ulster to join the Cardiff Blues after a hugely successful four-year stint up north, may be a cautionary tale.
While it might be a stretch to call him Saint Nick - even at this time of year - anything will be an improvement on the original "Fat" Nick moniker which attached to his 6ft 3ins, 18st frame when he lugged his well-paid form around Munster for an undistinguished season.
For a myriad of reasons, not all of them Munster's fault, Williams' career never took off down south; a year-long stint in Aironi rebooted this cousin of All Blacks World Cup winner, Sonny Bill Williams.
Aironi would suffer extinction, Williams resurrection; Ulster then embraced him and was just the club the player needed as he finally matured of the field as well as on it; he has admitted that the spiritual influences of key figures such as former skipper Johann Muller helped him to re-focus.
He did so to devastating effect, accumulating man of the match awards with the ravishing hunger of one making up for lost time; the deft offloading hewn from the Williams clan marked him out as much more than merely a one-trick rhino.
The transformation from "Fat" Nick to a more cuddly, appreciative "Big" Nick had been achieved. Settled now with a family, Cardiff's ability to offer a long-term contract - Ulster, who have to offload an overseas player anyway, could not countenance such a deal at his age - will provide more security for his family before he decides to return home.
His power was a vital attribute as Ulster developed into a formidable European force as he rekindled his enthusiasm for sport and life, as he re-acquainted himself with his childhood Auckland mentor, Mark Anscombe.
Although he personally hoovered up accolades, highlighted by being named the 2012/'13 Pro12 Player of the Season as well as being the only overseas player to be recognised by peers as the IRUPA Players' Player of the Year, Ulster would not win silverware with his significant bulk in tandem
They did see the best of him though and even last season there was an imperceptible change in how the opposition were beginning to neutralise his effectiveness; Cardiff have been hapless in recent times but they are recruiting heavily.
If they get half as much mileage from Williams as his current employers have managed, they should deem the move a spanking success.
"Nick has been tremendous over the past three years for Ulster," says winger Rory Scholes. "He was a big favourite with the fans with his barnstorming runs and big hits.
"He has brought a lot of smiles to faces the way he plays. He was always so committed and any team would miss a player of his quality.
"He loves playing for Ulster and he will put in a massive effort before he leaves at the end of the season."
Williams made his name back home with North Harbour and the Auckland Blues Super Rugby side, representing New Zealand at U-21 level and the Junior All Blacks, before moving to Europe in 2008; despite his sticky period with Munster they did pick up a Pro12 title in his debut season.
"Ulster people have always been great to me," said Williams. "Now this is a new challenge for me. I'm excited."