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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 24 February, 2020

'The guard said ‘I’ve been wanting to get my hands on you’’: Ex-Leinster coach Matt Williams on life in Ireland

The Australian pundit shares some memories ahead of the Guinness Six Nations – where he will be supporting his adopted home country.

Williams (right) lifting the Celtic League trophy as Leinster coach alongside captain Reggie Corrigan back in 2001.
Williams (right) lifting the Celtic League trophy as Leinster coach alongside captain Reggie Corrigan back in 2001.
Image: INPHO

MATT WILLIAMS STILL pinches himself every now and again. 

The Australian, best known in this part of the world as a rugby pundit, is on our screens during the Guinness Six Nations again this year.

“I’ve been very fortunate to do something I truly love,” said Williams, who appeared on Virgin Media’s new rugby entertainment show, The Line-Out, last week.

“The game has been really good to me.

“If you had said to me when I was a young boy that this is what I would still be doing 50 years after I started playing, I would say ‘no, that’s not going to happen’. It’s just not something I ever considered.

“It’s a beautiful game and the people who are in it are magnificent — a lot of my friends are involved in rugby. Without rugby, my life would be very, very different. I got some very good advice from a very wise person once, who said ‘try make the game better for you having been there’.”

After a playing and coaching career in his homeland, Williams was recruited by Leinster in 1999 and the Sydney native would also go on to coach Ulster, Ireland ‘A’ and Scotland. 

Over the past two decades, Ireland has become a second home for the 60-year-old and his family. These days a household name due to his media work, Matt says he enjoys interacting with rugby supporters up and down the country. 

“Everywhere, especially in Ireland, people come up and say hello,” he adds. “I always take a couple of days off and go out west or up north to have a look around. They are always polite, I’ve never had one person in Ireland who was rude and I love talking to  them. 

“I had a very funny one years ago, when I was coaching [at Leinster]. We had just beaten Munster in the final of the original Celtic League and we had two weeks off. My sister-in-law was over so we packed up all the kids in the car and drove to Kerry.

There was a Garda checkpoint, and as I pulled up the guard said ‘I have been wanting to get my hands on you’. He looked into the back where the kids were and said ‘Say goodbye to your da, he’s going away for long time!’.

“He called his mate over and began talking rugby for about 15 minutes as the traffic jam built up behind us. It was great.”

Matt Williams 2 Matt was a guest on The Line-Out last week. Source: Virgin Media Television

There is no debate about who Williams wants to win when the Guinness Six Nations comes around every year, but it gets a little trickier if Ireland are playing the Wallabies. 

“I’m an Irish citizen, I’ve lived here for a very long time so I want Ireland to win all the time,” Williams smiles. “I love watching Ireland play, and I’m passionate about it. My family is too, my kids grew up here.

“The real dilemma is when they play Australia, that’s when it’s hard for me. In those cases, I hope for a draw every time. The nice thing about it is that I can’t lose.”

Having witnessed Irish rugby go through both good and bad times, the memory that stands in his mind is the all-conquering Guinness Six Nations campaign of two years ago, when Joe Schmidt cemented his place in Irish sporting history by clinching the Grand Slam. 

“I’ve got to say, even though we were working on TV, watching Ireland win the Grand Slam in 2018 was really fantastic,” Williams says.

“Johnny Sexton’s drop goal against France was incredible and the first 40 minutes [against England] at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day was probably the best rugby I’ve seen an Irish team play.”

The Line-Out airs at 10pm on Virgin Media One every Thursday throughout the Guinness Six Nations. This week, the guests will include Ireland and Munster legend Peter Stringer and comedian Andrew Ryan, while Heather Fisher will also tell her inspirational story. If you miss out, you can catch up on the Virgin Media Player. Every Guinness Six Nations game will also be shown live on Virgin Media Television. Please drink responsibly. To learn more, visit drinkaware.ie.

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