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‘I felt like a rugby player again’ – Scarlets’ Johnny Williams on injury battle

24 Mar 2023 4 minute read
Johnny Williams (Credit: Scarlets)

Simon Thomas

The fact Johnny Williams is being talked about as a World Cup bolter after just one sub’s outing in six months speaks volumes about what he could potentially offer Wales in midfield.

It also reflects the quality of that performance for the Scarlets against Munster in the last round of the BTK URC as he made his first appearance since the start of October following a frustrating calf injury.

During his 63 minutes on the field, he put in 14 carries for 96 metres, while there were 11 passes, nine tackles and two clean breaks. It was some display.

Now he’s in from the start at home to the Cell C Sharks this weekend, which will give him a further chance to send out a reminder to Warren Gatland.

The Wales No 12 jersey remains very much up for grabs with Nick Tompkins, Owen Watkin and Joe Hawkins having all figured there this season amid a fair bit of chopping and changing.

But, first and foremost, the five-cap Williams is just glad to be back playing after a very challenging time.

“I’ve had bigger and nastier injuries. I’ve torn my hamstring off the bone and I’ve dislocated my shoulder. This was just a calf strain, but I really struggled to get back fit from it, so mentally it was probably one of the hardest I’ve had to deal with, with the doubts and when I’d play again,” said the 26-year-old.

“I was originally meant to be eight weeks out, but it ended up being 23 or whatever – a crazy amount.”

Explaining how he dealt with the setback, he said: “I started to do a lot more outside the club, seeing some psychologists. It’s not therapy but more guidance, working on my mindset within the sport and my personal life.

“From being negative about my calf injury, for example, and having doubts, it was a case of thinking ‘Right, I’m going to be positive’. You change the way you think about certain things and actions. It was more like lifestyle guidance.

“Once I had a plan in place and a date to come back, that really helped.”

The former London Irish and Newcastle centre continued: “It was just good to be back out there against Munster. I felt like a rugby player again, whereas when you’re injured for a long time you feel like a professional rehabber.

“I’m just happy to be back in a Scarlets shirt. We’re at the business end of the season and we have a big game this weekend against the Sharks.”

It will be fascinating to see how he goes in his head-to-head battle with Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who has beaten more defenders (34) than any other player in the league this season.

The other Sharks centre – a certain Lukhanyo Am – isn’t too shabby either, while there are more Springboks stars on duty in the shape Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Makazole Mapimpi.

Owen Watkin is another Welsh international centre doing a decent job of making up for lost time.

The 36-cap Osprey had a lengthy spell out after a knee operation, but has posted some impressive stats since recently returning to action.

He made the joint-most offloads (4) in the last URC round, during the close encounter with Benetton, while he also crossed the gainline as many times as any other player (11).

Now he has another opportunity to catch the eye in Saturday afternoon’s derby clash with the Dragons at the Stadium.

As for the visitors, the stats show they are particularly adept at pinching opposition ball, having pulled off the joint-most interceptions (9) and won as many counter-ruck turnovers (7) as any other team.

They welcome back Ollie Griffiths at No 8 and the hope will be that he can have a positive end to what has been another injury-hit season.

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