Owen Williams faces a watershed moment in Gloucester career
Wales’ forgotten playmaker Owen Williams faces a watershed moment in his Gloucester career this month. A fortnight that could decide where his positional and geographical future lies.
Starting berths have been few and far between for Welsh playmaker Owen Williams since making his Kingsholm move from Leicester Tigers last year, watching from the sidelines while injuries and fierce competitors restrict his game time. The man from Neath will have envisioned a distinctly greater role for the Cherry and Whites, having arrived as one of the leagues biggest money moves of the time, rumoured to have been lured from the Tigers’ lair on an eye-watering £400,000 deal.
Williams’ near disappearance has raised many an eyebrow either side of the Severn Bridge over the last two years, including those of namesake and former Wales legendary wing Shane Williams, and more besides. The man who stood toe-to-toe with the All Blacks in just his third and final cap to date seemed unable to secure a permanent spot in a mid-table Premiership XV, inexplicably out of sight and out of mind. Widely respected as one of the most capable 10/12 hybrids in both England and Wales, the 26-year-old went from one of Leicester’s most valuable game changers to one of the league’s dearest benchwarmers.
Billy Burns’ move to Ulster late last summer and Danny Cipriani’s pectoral injury, sustained in a polar Kingsholm defeat to Exeter Chiefs on Friday, opens up a barn door-sized opportunity for Williams to stake his claim and influence the next step in his career; both positionally and geographically.
The Ystradgynlais product has two seasons left on his current Gloucester contract and has even been linked with a mid-contract move to one of the Welsh regions in hopes of furthering his Test career. However, former Gloucester teammate and Welsh international hooker Richard Hibbard recently stated that Williams' heart is set on proving himself to Gloucester boss Johan Ackermann instead.
Like the many Welsh utility men before him - see James Hook and Gavin Henson – Williams’ heart is firmly set on commanding from the ten jersey, and the 27-year-old has his chance against league strugglers Newcastle Falcons this Sunday with a clear run at fly-half on the fast Kingston Park turf.
Gloucester have become one of the league’s most attack-minded sides over the last two years and Newcastle’s artificial turf will provide Williams with the prime opportunity to prove himself conducive to this new way of playing under former Springbok Ackermann.
During Cipriani’s absence, Williams will have to attest his quality as an un-droppable force for Ackermann’s playoff hopes, and the future of the Gloucester backline. While he is sure to be unceremoniously ejected from the driver seat upon Cipriani’s return to fitness, Williams will be playing for his future and could prove himself the succession plan once the 31-year-old’s two-year deal expires at the end of next season.
An impressive showing at standoff could also see Ackermann persist with his selection of Williams at inside centre this season upon Cipriani’s return. For the most part, Ackermann has preferred the bulk of Mark Atkinson in the twelve jersey during his time in England, but the former Sale Sharks centre has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for a number of weeks, allowing Williams’ to step into the midfield-breach and starting XV.
It may not be his preferred position, but a secondary playmaker role in tandem with both Cipriani and Billy Twelvetrees will likely be the best Williams could hope for in a fiercely competitive backline.
Physicality in defence and attack and a nose for a gap ball-in-hand will be the additional areas Williams must tick off Ackermann’s Christmas list if he is to assert his importance to Gloucester’s starting lineup at inside over the next two seasons. While game management, a flair for attack and a peerless kicking game will be must-haves if there is any hope of securing the ten jersey upon Cipriani’s departure in May 2020.
Williams’ performances during December will surely lay the foundations for his next step as a professional athlete. Play well, and we may see the Welshman cement himself as a Gloucesterman and the key cog in a continually dominant Premiership side. Fail to impress his South African chief-in-command, and a move over the bridge for pastures new, as a guaranteed starter, and the furthering of his Wales career will surely beckon.