IF Angus Williams felt he had timed his run perfectly by managing to make it out of the United States just before travel restrictions began to really bite, the prop forward could be forgiven for wondering during the last eight weeks if he picked the right line by heading to Scotland to join up with the Watsonians Super6 franchise instead of back to his native New Zealand to see out the Covid-19 lockdown.
After landing in Edinburgh, Williams was picked up at the airport by Watsonians head coach Fergus Pringle and dropped off at a club flat where he met fellow Kiwi Harrison Courtney – and that, alas, was more or less as far as it got in terms real-life human contact for the 26-year-old since arriving on these shores almost two months ago.
“Harrison spent a few days showing me the ropes, then he was supposed to fly out to New Zealand but his flight got cancelled, so he went to stay with family in Dunbar, and since then I have been on my own,” explains Williams, who was brought to Scotland to play in the now cancelled cross-border section of the inaugural Super6 season which was supposed to run from 25th April through to 30th May.
Fortunately, Williams appears to be a stereotypically pragmatic New Zealander, in that he recognises that fate has conspired against him but is not going to get hysterical about being left stranded in almost complete isolation in a foreign country.
“I had spent a little bit of time in the States before heading to Scotland and it was just beginning to get a little bit dicey when halfway through my trip one of my flights was cancelled and I had to reschedule that on the go,” he recalls. “So, I got myself over to Edinburgh and discover that they had lost my bags, but at least I had made it here. It was a bit of a crazy time, but I’ve got my bag back now so it is all good.
“It is definitely not ideal,” he quickly clarifies. “I had heard the boys were going to be in that semi-final [of the domestic section of the Super6 season] and I was hoping to train with them before that game, so it is definitely not what I was expecting – but it’s fine. I live right next to a park so I’ve just been keeping busy and doing what training I can do to keep myself fit.
“I met Harrison, of course, and I’ve had some chats with Fergus, but nothing much else. I’ve been given a few running routes – one that goes through The Meadows, another one took me up Arthur’s Seat and I’ve been along the Royal Mile which was quite nice – so I’ve seen a bit of the city. It’s a beautiful place.”
“It is a bit of a weird situation but you’ve just got to make do the best you can, and I’m just looking forward to getting back into the swing of things when it all kicks back off.”
Strong Scottish links
Williams was born and raised in the coastal town of Whitianga in New Zealand’s North Island. He attended St Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton for his final year, and then studied for two Bachelor degrees – one in Physical Education, Exercise and Sports Science, and one in Science (nutrition) – at Otago University.
During that time he played over 100 games for the university’s rugby club, helping them to three Otago Metropolitan Premier Club Rugby titles, and gaining recognition with New Zealand Universities. “I ended up playing provincial rugby for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup, and was a fully contracted squad member last year, although I didn’t get as much game time as I would have liked,” he says.
As his first name suggests, Williams has strong Scottish links. His mother, Sue, was born in Edinburgh and raised near Dumfries, and he is looking forward to visiting both his grandparents when it is safe to do so.
At 26, he is still a youngster by tight-head prop standards, and he has no regrets about not taking up previous opportunities to try his hand in his mother’s homeland.
“I’d been approached by a Scottish club in previous years but at that stage I was still doing my thing with Otago and the time didn’t seem right,” he says. “Then I had a conversation with my agent about it and he thought it would be a really good opportunity to come over and let them have a look at me, so I just decided to head over and see what it is like, as well as catch-up with some of the family who are over here.
“My great grandfather went to George Watson’s College, so there is a long standing connection with the club.”
In the longer-term, he would like to step up from a part-time contract in Super6 to a full-time deal with Edinburgh or Glasgow Warriors. “Hopefully I can get a good crack at it with Watsonians and get some good exposure to see where that takes me,” he says.
“As my agent pointed out, it is a chance to play a game that suits my strengths. In Europe, there is a lot more emphasis on the scrum and driving maul, it is all just a bit more up-front than back in New Zealand, which is the kind of stuff I enjoy.”
In the meantime, it is a waiting game, without even a day job to help while away the hours and integrate into his new surroundings. “Work, like everything else at the moment, is up in the air,” he concludes. “With coronavirus, I don’t suppose many businesses will be taking people on for a while, so I’m not really sure what is going to happen with that.
“Before I came across, I was helping out with the Otago Academy as a nutritionist, and I was doing a little bit of work at a local school as a teaching assistant, so that’s one way I could go, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“All I can do at the moment is keep myself busy by trying to stay fit, and I’m doing a lot of facetime with friends and family back home, who have been brilliant at checking in that I am doing alright.”