Liam Williams has been recalled to the Lions starting with XV due to his reputation as an expert bomber. It is fair to say that he is confident that he will honor his billing. Very confident.
It’s the kind of confidence that will reassure head coach Warren Gatland and the other Lions players, along with all the British and Irish fans.
When asked who is the best player in the world under the tall ball, the Wales fullback said: ‘You’re looking at him.’
Liam Williams is well aware of the challenge South Africa will pose in the air
There was a tribute to the work of his teammates acting as escorts – in an effort to legally prevent opponents from reaching him to compete for the ball.
But when asked if he really stands behind himself to do better than anyone else in an air race, Williams said: “Of course. If I don’t believe in myself, no one else will believe in me.
“You know when you play 15, your job is to catch balls and chase kicks. I’ve been behind Leigh Halfpenny for years and he was one of the best in the air. We have been working together for years. That’s actually what we do.’
The 30-year-old will be seen as the solution to a pressing problem. Last Saturday, the Lions lost the second Test largely due to their inability to withstand South Africa’s air raid. The back three repeatedly spilled the ball and two of them, Stuart Hogg and Anthony Watson, were dropped as a result.
Williams has been placed in the grid for the decisive Test against South Africa
If the Lions don’t improve in this crucial aspect of the game, they lose the series decider, so Williams is a symbol of hope for the tourists; that this time they will tackle the kicking barrage and defeat the Springboks.
He knows that comes with a certain burden of expectation, but he is not overly upset.
“I’m only human,” he said. ‘I do feel a little pressure. There’s been quite a bit of talk this week and I’m going to be proud of that this weekend.’
Having been on the bench for the first Test and not on matchday 23 last weekend, Williams is motivated but still relaxed enough to joke about his job.
What’s the secret to dominating the sky: technique or confidence? “F**k know,” he joked. “When the ball is in the air, I’m not one to step back.
“Going for those balls is my way of helping my team. Whether I get hurt or not, that’s just the way it is.
‘Of course we are working on technology; work to get high and stay square, but you also need to have balls.
“You don’t get much time to think. I go up in the air to get the ball and if that means a 50-50 clatter in the air, that’s the way it is.’
The Welshman hopes to have some space in attack and to perform defensive duties
The Lions have been working hard on their aerial skills in training this week, with many one-on-one matches for the ball.
They also practiced climbing above opponents, using a ‘turtle’ trapping path. Asked who wore it, Williams said: ‘Huw Bennett’, referring to the strength and conditioning coach and former Welsh hooker. He added: ‘His back is f**ked!’
Four years ago, Williams was part of the Lions team going into the final Test with New Zealand at 1-1 in the series, as is the case this time.
“It’s a bit of déjà vu, I guess,” he said. In the first Test of that year, he had mounted a classic long-range attempt by counter-attacking from his own 22.
Amid all the talk about catching kicks, he’s hoping he’ll get chances to run on Saturday too.
In a tight sequence, a repeat of his magical moment in that thrilling draw in Eden Park could be decisive.
“That would be nice, yes,” he said. “It was a great try that was eventually scored by Sean O’Brien. It was all a bit blurry. Sometimes I look back at the game and think, “Jesus, what was I thinking?” But it all worked out in the end.’
Kick-off: Saturday, 5 p.m., Cape Town. TV: LIVE on Sky Sports and talkSPORT. Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).