Veteran lock Ali Williams has revealed that the lure of pulling on the All Black jersey again provided the motivation for his extraordinary comeback after two years on the sidelines.
Williams first played for the All Blacks in 2002 and has represented his country in 61 Test matches since, but the last was in 2009 and after a major Achilles injury it seemed as though he may never do so again.
The big tight forward showed his class this season by forming a vital part of the Blues pack in their Super Rugby campaign and his determined effort was rewarded with a call-up to the All Blacks' Tri-Nations squad.
Williams said that this most recent recall was even sweeter than his Test debut.
He told NZPA: "The reality is this time, I've probably put more work into it. The other time just came about. It's a special feeling, words can't really describe it."
Williams showed that he was serious about getting back to the top of his game when he went to England in December to play a handful of games for National League One team Nottingham.
His form for the Blues this season got steadily better as the season went on, and despite being sidelined for four weeks due to a hamstring injury he was close to his menacing best towards the end of the campaign - stealing line-out ball, making tackles and even crossing the whitewash for a try in their play-off win against the Waratahs.
Williams said that with all of his injury woes it was difficult to stay positive, but the dream of playing for the All Blacks again had helped him through the dark times.
"The reality is that you have to dig keep, you have to find the things that motivate and putting that jersey on is my biggest motivator. That was my dream. I haven't put it on yet. I am in the squad and now I have to add to it," he said.
He explained that at the beginning of the season he had just wanted to get back into Super Rugby, but admitted that after the Blues' semifinal loss to the Reds he did start wondering about his chances to be included in Graham Henry's squad.
He said: "I just wanted to play and the Blues had such a great season that I wanted to be part of that. In terms of the whole All Black thing, it wasn't until this week, when you've got a lot of time to think about it, you start thinking, 'Am I going to named in the team, have I done enough?'"
Williams was at the North Shore Rugby Club for the squad announcement and Henry went up to him afterwards to congratulate him personally. Henry noted that Williams hadn't played test rugby for 31 months and there were many people who thought he wouldn't do so again.
"Perhaps it may have even, in a very weak moment, crossed his mind. But knowing Ali as we do, he's an extremely determined fellow, a very important guy in the All Blacks over the years," said Henry.
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