Bionic bone puts Williams back into England equation
Leicester forward tells Tom Cary he hopes to be a destructive force for Jones
W with his strengthened arm hen Mike Williams takes to the field at the Ricoh Arena this afternoon for Leicester’s crunch clash with Wasps, the massive Zimbabwe-born, Englandqualified flanker will do so fortified not only by a specially modified guard to protect the arm that he has broken three times in the last 12 months, but also by a new secret weapon: bionic bones.
Williams, it turns out, has been taking medication for the last few months to boost the calcium content in his blood, helping to increase the density and strength of the arm which has caused him to miss so much of the last year.
“Parathyroid hormone it’s called,” he explains after a bone-crunching shake of the hand at Leicester’s training base in Oadby in midweek.
“I had never heard of it. After [the third break in October] I went down to London with my physio to see a guy called Richard Keen, who is one of the leading bone specialists in England. He works with numerous guys in British Athletics. He put me on a medication which has only been on the shelf for 15 years. It’s given to the elderly with brittle bones. Basically, when we had the screws and the plate taken out there was obviously a weakness where all the screw holes are. The medication is to help fill out those holes.”
If it continues to have a rejuvenating effect on the 25-year-old – and Williams returned just before Christmas to no ill effects – it would be a welcome bit of good news for Leicester. They need it at the moment. The sacking of director of rugby Richard Cockerill on Monday after eight years in charge was seismic; the loss to injury of Manu Tuilagi for the rest of the season, just as he looked to be regaining a bit of form and fitness, another kick in the proverbials. These are uncertain times at Welford Road.
A fully fit Williams could also be very good news for England.
Eddie Jones clearly believes he has seen something in the Bulawayo-born player, the Australian repeatedly calling him up for his England training get-togethers despite his injury setbacks. At 6ft 5in and over 18st it is not difficult to see why.
With Chris Robshaw the latest England back-rower to fall victim to injury, joining a list which includes James Haskell, Jack Clifford, Billy Vunipola and Sam Jones, a big, athletic hulk of a man who can play across the back five is no bad thing.
Jones has even spoken about Williams – who qualifies for England thanks to his maternal grandfather, who left Sussex during the war and settled in what was then Rhodesia – as a potential openside, a position with which the former Sharks and Blue Bulls player is not overly familiar. The man himself is too eager to get a taste of international action, though – and too flattered by Jones’s interest in him – to worry about where he plays.
“When Eddie [spoke about me] as playing seven, I thought ‘Jeez, I’ve never really played seven’,” he admits. “But it just shows. I’ll use that as an example of Eddie looking at me as a seven-slash-six. He just wants a kind of destructive man in defence and a destructive guy in attack. And if you can do that you can pretty much play anywhere in the back row.
“Eddie doesn’t look at an out-andout seven who can ‘jackal’ like a [David] Pocock or a [Michael] Hooper or anyone like that. He just kind of wants those big, destructive people in defence and attack. It’s obviously the right thing to do because you can see how well England are doing at the moment. Hopefully, now I’ve sorted this arm of mine, I can get my chance.”
No one would begrudge Williams a bit of good fortune after the run of luck he has endured. It has been a tough 12 months, not only because of his injuries but anxiety he feels about the political and economic situation back in his homeland.
Williams, who “grew up in the bush, hunting” has not seen his father, who runs a mining company in Harare, for about two years. “Last season was the first for a while that I didn’t go home in between seasons, because of how bad it is,” he says. “I thought it probably wasn’t the best time for me to go home because it is very upsetting to see how bad things are; economically, everything really. There is no money in the country and it is a constant struggle there.” All his friends he grew up with, he says, have left, although his mother, his brother and his father are still there.
“It is hard, not being able to see my family, but if I am lucky enough to get capped, I will bring them over for one of those games,” he says.
For the moment, it is a case of just getting his head down, and trusting in his bionic bones, starting with Wasps this afternoon.
“It’s going to be a tough game but the team is very driven to get things right and to make Cockers proud by coming away with a win,” Williams says, admitting the loss of the man who brought him to Leicester from Worcester two years ago was a big shock. “It isn’t impossible. We know their weaknesses as well as they know ours. We will give it our best shot.
“They have a lot of firepower in the back line, so hopefully if we keep it up front, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
Resurgent: Mike Williams returned to the pitch last month after a series of arm injuries