By Katie Field
LAST SEASON looked set to be the breakthrough campaign for teenager Jordan Williams. He had won the 2011-12 Best Newcomer award in the Principality Premiership after scoring 337 points in 24 games for Llanelli and had played off the bench for the Scarlets a couple of times, scoring a spectacular try against Leicester in the LV= Cup.
Williams was handed his first RaboDirect Pro12 start for the region in September 2012 at Connacht, a few days shy of his 19th birthday. He grabbed the headlines and the Man of the Match award with two tries inside ten second-half minutes to help the Scarlets win 24-11. But then his fortunes turned, for the worse.
He dislocated his shoulder playing for Llanelli against Gala in the British & Irish Cup in October and was out for four months. He didn’t make it back into the Scarlets team last season but did shine in a Wales U20 side that came within a whisker of winning the U20 Six Nations and the Junior World Championship in France.
Williams made six starts for the U20s last spring and his unique attacking skills played a big role in taking Wales past the Baby Boks and into the World Championship final. England then beat them 23-15 – tough to take after the same opponents had this year denied Wales an U20 Grand Slam – but Williams takes the positives from the tournament.
“It was a good tournament for us, becoming the first Welsh team to reach the final,” he says. “It took a while to get over the disappointment of losing to England, but we can be proud of what we achieved.”
The youngster from Llanelli earned a notable new fan during the tournament, as All Black legend Sean Fitzpatrick said he hadn’t seen anyone like him since the great Kiwi Christian Cullen was ripping defences apart in the late 1990s and a You Tube showreel has had nearly 18,000 views (above). He has turned some heads within the Scarlets squad too, with Wales outside-half Rhys Priestland describing him as “probably the best young player I’ve ever seen”. It sounds like Williams has got what it takes to pick up where he left off a year ago.
He grew up playing outside-half but is now primarily a full-back and as the region lost 13 players in the summer, including regular wings George North and Andy Fenby, there should be opportunities for Williams to shine, as he did so memorably against Harlequins last weekend, and against Edinburgh, where he scored another brilliant individual try.
Standing at just 5ft 8in, he’s definitely more in the mould of Shane Williams than North, as the Scarlets attack coach Mark Jones acknowledges. “He’s far more elusive than George would be, more of a Shane Williams-type, with different attributes to other, bigger players.”
The son of ex-Llanelli lock Lee Williams, Jordan took up mini rugby with Llanelli Wanderers at the age of six and moved to New Dock Stars while he was at Coedcae Comprehensive School, before the Scarlets signed him up to their academy aged 15.
“I played a little bit of football but nothing too serious. All my friends played rugby for New Dock Stars and my dad and uncle (Justin Hughes of Aberavon) were both big rugby players,” Williams says. “As soon as I got brought into the Scarlets Academy I thought I had a good opportunity to have a career in rugby, but I still went to college (Coleg Sir Gâr) and continued my education.”
Williams played for Wales U16 and U18 and honed his skills by training with the Scarlets’ senior players from the age of 17 and starting to turn out for Llanelli in the Premiership at around the same time. “I was playing a good standard of rugby for the academy and playing in the Premiership as a 17- or 18-year-old really challenges you,” he says.
He may have inherited his mother’s height rather than his father’s, but his low centre of gravity enables him to make the elusive, jinking runs, which caught the eye of Fitzpatrick. His footwork and change of pace cause problems for defences, and his ability to kick goals even as a teenager in a man’s game shows he has a calm temperament.
As soon as he started playing senior rugby he was moved from outside-half to full-back but he insists he doesn’t mind. “Full-back gives you time and space on the ball and it’s less pressure.”
Williams, who turned 20 last month, started this season on the Scarlets’ bench, but backs coach Jones says: “Jordan is tremendously skilful. His challenge is to bring that to the regional and Heineken level but also to work on other aspects of his game over the next two or three seasons.”
Occasionally players in Wales rocket to stardom in a matter of months – North made his competitive debut for the Scarlets in September 2010 and played for Wales 12 weeks later. Williams might dream of emulating that, but he knows the key for him this autumn is to make the most of his opportunities but keep his feet on the ground.
As Wales U20 manager Mark Taylor says: “We have to look back at some of the things he does and even then we aren’t quite sure how he managed to do them. The world is there for him to grasp, but the challenge will be for him to just take it step by step and not get carried away by praise.”
Jordan Williams Lowdown
Name Jordan Rhys Williams
Age 20 (20 Sept 1993)
Birthplace Singleton, Swansea, but I’ve always lived in Llanelli
Nickname A few of the lads call me Cooper after the rugby league player Cooper Cronk. They think I look like him
Honours Wales U20, U18, U16
Best tweeter I just use it for banter with friends
Other sport you’d like to play professionally Football or golf. I’m a Man Utd fan
Describe your personality Quiet
Best holiday Ibiza
TV show Top Gear
I’d like to meet… Sir Alex Ferguson. He’s led United through some great times
To switch off I… Play golf or spend time with friends
Dish you most like to cook
I still live at home so I try to get my mum to do all the cooking, but I can do spaghetti Bolognese
Childhood rugby hero
Most difficult opponent England U20s last year — they beat us twice
Best moment in rugby My league debut last season for the Scarlets, against Connacht at the Sportsground