Ali Williams set for 100th game
June 28, 2013
Al Williams has made his mark on the Blues © Getty Images
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan has paid tribute to Ali Williams, who will join an illustrious group of players featuring Keven Mealamu, John Afoa and Tony Woodcock to have played 100 Super Rugby games for the team when he steps out against the Sharks in round 18 at Newlands on Saturday.
"It's great for someone like him," Kirwan said of his captain's contribution to the franchise over the past decade. "He's such a proud Blues man. He's been one of the key guys driving the importance of the game this week for us as a franchise, and I think it's an added bonus that Ali gets to play his 100th game for the Blues and he joins a very special club."
Kirwan, meanwhile, named All Blacks stars Mealamu and Rene Ranger on the bench after the pair did not arrive in South Africa until Monday and Tuesday evening respectively. Kirwan said the disruption caused by the late arrival of such key players who had been involved in the All Blacks' Test series against France had been mitigated by the enthusiasm they had injected into the camp.
"It was really important that these guys [Mealamu and Ranger] got home after they'd been with the All Blacks," Kirwan said. "It's probably not the most ideal preparation but we've planned for it and we understood how it was going to be. The boys are really excited and refreshed so that has compensated for it."
Culum Retallick has been bracketed with Kane Barrett on the bench after spending three days in bed with a viral illness after the side's arrival in South Africa.
Kirwan said his side was embracing the knockout nature of the game in Durban, mindful of the fact the Blues sit eighth on the Super Rugby ladder with three games remaining. "It's a Test match for us and the players are very excited about it," he said, acknowledging the Blues must win if they are to still harbour hopes of making the play-offs. "It feels a little bit like the beginning of the season for us, and hopefully the game will be a little bit like that. The guys are really excited. They've come together really well. We've been chatting all week about how important this game is for our season so it'll be very interesting to see how they deal with that sudden-death pressure."
Blues: Charles Piutau; Frank Halai, Jackson Willison, Francis Saili, George Moala; Chris Noakes, Piri Weepu; Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua; Ali Williams (captain), Anthony Boric; Angus Ta'avao, James Parsons, Tim Perry. Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Kane Barrett / Culum Retallick, Brendon O'Connor, Jamison Gibson-Park, Baden Kerr, Rene Ranger.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Red cards, uncontested scrums, end-of-season wobbles and schoolboy errors - the Monday Maul looks back over the weekend's talking points