Tuesday 23 January 2018

Munster legend Williams will use insidetrack to subdue Ireland pack

Hugh Farrelly

JIM WILLIAMS has written his name indelibly into the history of Munster rugby -- as player, captain and Heineken Cup-winning assistant coach under Declan Kidney.

The Australian's seven years with the Irish province have had a profound influence on his subsequent career and the Wallabies' forwards coach intends to draw on that knowledge for Saturday's Test match at the Suncorp Stadium.

One former team-mate at the forefront of Williams' thoughts is second-row Donncha O'Callaghan, the senior forward in the Irish pack following a comprehensive list of withdrawals. Williams played with O'Callaghan and his second-row partner Mick O'Driscoll when the two young locks were breaking into the Munster set-up and he says the 62-cap veteran is central to Irish hopes on Saturday.

"I was lucky," said Williams yesterday. "When I got to Munster in 2001 a lot of those guys were just coming on the scene -- Donncha, Mick O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell -- it's obviously been pleasing with his work ethic and how Donncha has progressed. He's always been moving forward with his skill-set, his responsibility. He's a senior player and he's become more of a leader. I think he has a bit more of a say in how things happen. I'm really happy with the way he's gone -- though I won't be happy if he plays that well on Saturday night."

The Irish field an inexperienced back-row with Chris Henry making his debut at No 8 alongside flankers Shane Jennings and Niall Ronan, who have just 10 caps between them.

"Yeah, it's been a struggle to get footage of them," said Williams. "We had to go back to club (Magners League) matches. We got a little bit of Chris Henry. Niall Ronan I know from Munster. And Shane Jennings I know.

"I've seen a little bit of Rhys Ruddock on U-20s and they all look impressive. It's good to see where Irish rugby is at the moment. Declan's obviously working hard on trying to bring players through.

"Niall Ronan was at Munster with me and I rated him very well. He's improved every year he's been there. His all-round game has got better. He was a good ball player, could run well. We needed to work on his breakdown work, but I've seen that progress. He's started to get into that modern-day No 7 role -- to carry ball, even be a line-out option, and attacking the ruck and pilfering ball."

But while Williams respects the Irish loose trio, he has a deep belief in the quality of the Wallaby back-row of Rocky Elsom, David Pocock and Richard Brown and sees it as a primary strength of the Australian team.

"There's a very good balance. Richard Brown is a guy who can do a bit of everything -- he can carry well, play in tight. His combination with David Pocock is sensational. The two of them (are) responsible for 70pc of turnovers within the (Western) Force. It's a phenomenal combination, great understanding," he said.

"Rocky? Just one of the most dynamic players in the world. He's improved on work-rate and attitude on where he needs to be and what he needs to do. It's an excellent, balanced back-row."

Following last weekend's defeat to England, the majority of the Australian camp have been focusing on themselves this week, but Williams was happy to talk about what he expects from Ireland.

"They won't hide from what needs to be done. The gain-line's important, having the ability to play and take a chance when the opportunity arises. And they don't have to do it with ball in hand -- could be a pop over the top, a cross kick," he said.

"But they'll certainly be giving themselves every opportunity to win. I wouldn't expect anything less. I'd be disappointed if they didn't come with that attitude and I know they won't. They'll certainly be ready to play."

Irish Independent

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