7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
They choose 'em well in Munster - no doubt about it. But when they plumped for Jim Williams as their Australian overseas import in succession to John Langford, Munster possibly obtained even more than they had bargained for.
Not only did the south-western Irish province inherit a seasoned and experienced player who always gives his all; they also acquired a leader who has assumed the captaincy and injected all the innovative ideas which any product of the ACT Brumbies' set-up will inevitably bring to the table.
That the dynamic back-row forward has been afforded his own moniker of 'Seamus' around Thomond Park in Limerick and Musgrave Park in Cork is testimony to his cult status throughout the province. Thereabouts they like players who give it 100 per cent and Williams does all of that.
An immensely strong man, he is invariably one of Munster's leading three or four tacklers in every game, and he has a remarkable capacity to get to his feet quickly and then contest ball at the breakdown. Couple this with Williams' ball-carrying ability, and it is clear that the World Cup-winning Wallaby more than punches his weight. The very fact that Declan Kidney had met Williams, his 32nd birthday already behind him, face-to-face during the Lions' tour two summers ago and signed him there and then, should have been sufficient proof that Williams wasn't just accepting a glorified retirement cheque.
His longevity probably has something to do with his late development. The eighth child of Anne Williams, he hailed from Young - a rural, farming outpost 200 miles from Canberra. He joined the army when he was 17, became a qualified plumber and swapped rugby league for union before spending a season with West Hartlepool in the mid-90s.
Only on returning to Australia, and after a particularly harrowing day for Warringah opposite David Campese and Randwick in the Sydney Grand final, did he switch from wing to back-row. And only after a stinging rebuke from then ACT coach Eddie Jones did Williams knuckle down and become the player he is today.
However, after three golden years which delivered World Cup and Super 12 winners' medals, Williams was embittered by his exclusion from the Australian squad for the Lions series. He sought a new challenge, and encouragement from Langford helped propel him to Munster.
He notes that Australia is more liberal and laid-back in its outlook, and he can't say he's enamoured with the heavier rainfall and colder temperatures. But he has enjoyed it more than he'd dared hope, especially the rugby. "It's been excellent. The reception I got initially when I got over here ever since I broke into the team has been tremendous," he says.
"There's been a big difference in the style of play. The conditions back in Australia allow you to play a nice, fast, open game. You cut down on contact as much as you can and recycle ball very quickly; and you're playing against the same type of sides all the time.
"Over here it's a much more physical type of game. You're playing against French to Welsh to Scottish to English. The French love running the ball and the English can be a lot more physical. It varies greatly and that's been one of the big things for me, the different styles you encounter all the time."
As a result, he reckons that most southern-hemisphere players would benefit from a stint in European rugby. "I think it would make him a lot better Test player because Australian sides have struggled a lot with wet conditions. The Brumbies are a clear example of this - they struggle with their handling when trying to play the same style of rugby, and Australia had the same problem against Ireland."
A fifth successive appearance in the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup is testimony to Munster's adaptability in all manner of conditions. Asked what it is that makes Munster such a force in European rugby, and Williams unhesitatingly points to the bond between the players.
"They've got a very good rapport with each other off the pitch and on the training ground with their coaching staff. They also have a very good idea of what each player is about, of what each player wants to achieve. They know exactly what their coaches want from them and they know exactly what they want from themselves. They have a basic enough game plan but they work on getting it exactly right."
There's also the bond between players and supporters. On one level it is the wall of noise that acts as a 16th player at Thomond Park especially. On another level it is the sense of duty the players feel they owe the Red Army for their unstinting support on countless treks abroad. Bad enough if you let down team-mates, worse still if you let down the many thousands you're likely to meet on the streets, in the pubs or at the airports.
Never was this more in evidence than in that remarkable four-try, 27-point win over Gloucester which earned Munster their unlikeliest quarter-final appearance to date.
After the whistle, Williams could be seen cavorting and singing with supporters on the pitch, having utterly 'lost it'. Nothing in Super 12 rugby prepared him for that. "At provincial level, that was by far the best win I've ever had. It was good and bad, because I've never actually experienced a Thomond Park crowd quite like that one. You could tell when we ran on that even though they were behind us they were also very worried. They weren't sure what was going to happen but after we scored that second try before half-time the whole complexion of the game changed, and the way Gloucester reacted and the way the crowd reacted to us was something I'll never forget."
This is an excerpt from an article by Gerry Thornleyfrom ERC's official magazine 'Rugby Europe'. To read the rest of article, click here