Not for the first time, an All Black team has landed on these shores with aficionados of the oval-ball game pondering whether they might be considered "the greatest" of all-time. They are certainly the greatest playing unit of the present day, even if their quest to equal the world record run of 17 Test wins fell a match short with their draw against the Wallabies in Brisbane a fortnight ago (logged as "lost 18-18" in the results section of their online media guide). And they do happen to have Ali in tow.
Ali Williams had good reason to savour morning training in frosty Edinburgh today, as the world champions got down to the business of preparing for the opening match of their November European tour, against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday. The 31-year-old lock missed the whole of the Rugby Championship season because of knee surgery and was regarded by many back home as a surprise selection in the 32-man squad.
Steve Hansen, however, places a huge value on Williams' experience and the New Zealand head coach asked the 75-cap veteran to address the rest of the squad before training yesterday. "He got me to stand up and talk about what it means to me to be in this team," the Auckland Blues second row recounted. "I said that watching those guys over the Rugby Championship and the level that they took the game to – especially the three locks – has inspired me to see if I can match that, if not better it. That's what we do: we challenge each other to become that ultimate team."
Which is perhaps not the best news for Scotland as Hansen's Kiwi class of 2012 seeks to emulate John Hart's 1997 bunch and go through a calendar year technically unbeaten, even if a draw equals a defeat in All Black language.
The first stop on the end-of-year tour – which proceeds to take in Italy in Rome, Wales in Cardiff and England at Twickenham – is a home from home visit for Williams. His parents were both born in England but his late grandmother was a Galashiels girl and his great-grandmother was born and raised in Roseburn Street, directly adjacent to Murrayfield. His maternal grandfather was a cousin of Arthur Dorward, who won 15 caps for Scotland as a scrum-half in the 1950s.
"I love coming back here," Williams said. "Unfortunately my grandmother passed away a few years ago, but I have still got an auntie here and it means a lot to my family and it means a lot to me. Every time I come back here I feel a sense of connection, which is great."
It is not so great for Scotland that their second row on Sunday is likely to be missing the giant Richie Gray and the in-form Jim Hamilton. Both are on the injured list. Then there is the historical list of 28 Scottish attempts to beat the All Blacks, stretching back to 1905, and not one success.
"You can look at that stat and become your own worst enemy," Williams pondered. "Or you can look at it and say, 'This is an international team who can beat anyone on any given day, so if we are not at our best then we will be that team that loses to them.'
"This is a challenge which is on a par with any other Test week. The reality is that we have got to go out there and do the simple things right. If we do that, we will deliver a performance that we are happy with, and the result will take care of itself."Reuse content