It is 20 years since Wales ended a Six (previously Five) Nations campaign without one of their wingers on the scoresheet. In 1995, all but five of Wales’ points came from the boot of Neil Jenkins; their try count this time currently stands at five, but none from their wide men.
No disrespect to Italy but, as Wales chase big points to close the gap on England and Ireland, today in Rome is the best chance for George North and Liam Williams to right that particular statistical wrong. Williams makes no bones of the fact he would dearly love to get over the try-line but reiterated the party line: “The only thing that matters is getting the job done as a side.”
The 23-year-old Scarlets flyer, once seen as a liability, is a reformed character. After giving away 13 penalties in his first 16 Tests, he has conceded just one in his last six appearances in a Wales jersey.
The most costly, and most infamous, came in June last year. Wales were narrowly leading the second summer Test against South Africa until Williams’ shoulder charge on Cornal Hendricks, for which referee Steve Walsh awarded the penalty try that led to an agonising 31-30 defeat.
“I’ve worked on my discipline since [last summer] and it’s been going quite well,” said Williams, whose most recent disciplinary blip was two yellow cards received against Ulster at the start of the season.
“I’m trying to handle certain situations differently, do what I have to and then get out of there instead of getting involved in stupid things.
“Flashpoints happen in every game and you just have to do your best and make sure you don’t give away penalties or whatever.
“Keep my body in the oven and my head in the freezer – that’s what I tell myself. I’m just looking to keep a cool head, do what I have to do to stay on the pitch.”
To his Wales team-mates’ credit, he received little flak from them for that costly shoulder charge, but social media was far less forgiving. In his defence, he says: “All I did was try as hard as I could to save a try and help my country to beat South Africa”. As the Twittersphere turned blue, he simply blocked those having a go.
Whether those critics are still out there remains to be seen but Williams added: “I just hope they’re happy that I’ve started four out of five games in this Six Nations.”
Not even his obvious frustration at not getting his hands on the ball more – the Scotland game aside, when he proved ever-present in attack – has dented his new-found self-confidence.
There was a time when North and Alex Cuthbert were guaranteed starters but as Williams’s stock has risen and Cuthbert’s form has marginally dipped there has been a noticeable shift. Now Williams is settled to the point that he can say: “I feel like I’ve been here for about 12 years”.
Getting on the scoresheet against Italy today would further enhance the security of his place in the side in this World Cup year. “I’ve been in loads and loads of camps but I’d just been on the fringes: 25th man for the whole 2012 campaign, on the bench for some games the following year,” he said. “But I’ve been playing regularly this time and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve just been happy to be a part of it.”
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