Matt Williams might have been an unknown quantity at Saints at the beginning of this season, but, slowly but surely, he’s making a name for himself at Franklin’s Gardens.
And the 22-year-old, who made his first-team debut in the LV= Cup game against Gloucester back in November, appears to have a big future ahead of him.
His story is an interesting one and, earlier this week, the Chron caught up with the versatile South African to get the lowdown on his arrival at Saints and how things are going for him so far.
So, Matt, you arrived at Saints last year. Tell us more about how it all came about...
“It all started with my agent hitting me up while I was at Natal Sharks in Durban and telling me there was an opportunity overseas. With my brother (Jeff Williams) being over here with the England 7s and my dad’s side of the family here in the UK I just decided to jump at the opportunity. I just closed my eyes and jumped. I came in on trial and the rest is history. I’ve obviously got many goals to achieve that I’ve set myself, but I feel like I’ve fitted right in at the club. The guys have made me feel at home and credit to the club for taking me in.”
What was that transition between home and here like?
“It wasn’t too big. All rugby clubs have a family environment, just Saints more so. This club has really taken me in as a youngster and what was really important to me coming over here was being comfortable. I’ve really found my feet here in that sense so missing home and things like that didn’t come up. I was pretty driven when I got here, I set my goals, put my head down and worked.”
You mentioned your brother who plays sevens. Is it a scene you ever fancied getting involved in?
“I got in a few camps with the South Africa sevens, nothing big or anything like that, but they were looking at me before I came over here. It’s not really my scene. I like a scrum and a maul.”
You came over here as a back row forward, but you’re now playing at hooker. How did that come about?
“The coaches brought me in for a chat and said they saw me as a hooker. I listened to what they said and I’ve really got to put my head down and graft now. There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of my set piece and stuff like that. As we know, we’ve got the best hookers in the country here and they’ve been really influential in me moving to hooker. They’ve helped me and it’s really been good.”
Were you surprised the coaches asked you to change roles?
“Not really. I always knew I was going to move to hooker. I always had that mentality. A hooker’s got to have that mentality about him and I think that’s always been in the back of my mind. With my heart I thought ‘I’ve got to make the move’, and what a club to make it at. You’re leading a pack of forwards and you’re the middle man. You make a lot of decisions and you’ve got to have something about you.”
What else do you feel you’ve got to learn to get to the top level?
“Throwing under pressure is massive. Learning how to work under pressure is crucial and I’m learning how to calm myself down and not get too excited about things.”
You mentioned about the hookers you’re playing alongside. How much of an influence does someone like Dylan Hartley have on you?
“I used to look up to Dyls before I got here. When I got here and was actually working with him it was massive for me. Watching the Premiership was quite a big thing and rugby is in our family so when the Heineken Cup or Premiership was on in South Africa on Sundays we were on the couch having a roast and watching the rugby. It’s really big.”
Did you ever imagine you’d be part of that environment?
“I always hoped so. I always loved Premiership rugby. There’s a lot better vibe about it. The big Saturday derbies and there’s a lot more to it: the singing that goes along with it, the passion the European sides bring to games is what drove us here. Sitting as young boys on the couch watching that really inspired us to get across here. I never in my wildest dreams thought I could be at Saints, though. It’s just a dream to be honest.”
And you’ve been on loan at Championship side Moseley, which must have taught you a few things?
“It was really tough. I learned a lot. It was an eye-opener. I’d never been on loan to a club like that so it was really good to see another side of things. We’ve got three hookers here at Saints doing amazingly but I’m not too worried about trying to climb that ladder and get ahead of them. It’s about me becoming a better player and a better person really. I’m setting myself goals and trying to achieve them. I’m not worried about other people. I’m trying to make them better if anything, that’s what a good club is all about. It’s not about the individuals, it’s about the team.”
Your family are clearly passionate about rugby and about what you’re doing. They must keep in touch with how you’re getting on?
“Definitely. My dad’s always on the phone. He always calls me before games. He’s in Afghanistan so there’s different time zones and he tries to get me before my games. He’s doing a bit of service over there. He’s got a contract with narcotics and explosives, but he still finds time to find out how I’m doing. He’s always on the websites trying to find out how I’m getting on. You’ll probably see some comments from him. He’s a passionate supporter and he loves what my brother and I do.”