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There has surely been no more sensational Test debut than that of Dennis Williams, for New Zealand against Great Britain at Salford in the English autumn of 1971.
Williams had learned only the previous day, his 18th birthday that he would fill the stand-off position left vacant by injured Gary Woollard. There were to be no birthday celebrations that restless night and so nervous was the youngster on match day that he was ill in the dressing room and had to be assisted along the players? tunnel by coach Lory Blanchard.
A confident British team quickly racked up eight points and the Kiwis looked doomed. Only then did Williams receive the ball for the first time, and he did what came naturally to him. A wide side-step, and sharp acceleration carried him past the first line of defenders and left fullback Derek Whitehead grasping. With that single act Williams sparked a revival which won the match and led to the first Test series triumph on British soil for 64 years. The 1971 Kiwis went on to complete a Grand Slam of victories over Australia, Great Britain, and France.
That was the first of 29 consecutive Test appearances, and 31 Tests in all, for this footballing genius. He was mature beyond his years, as evidenced by his strong display as a 17 year old in Auckland?s defeat of the 1971 Australians.
Williams made 5 other tours for New Zealand, most of them short excursions to Australia or for World Cup or World Championship tournaments, and played in all but one home series between 1971 and 1981. It was his misfortune that the Kiwis often struggled during the 1970?s, lacking the professional resources of their Australian and British opponents.
Too often William?s attacking skills were blunted by circumstances, and his energies had to be redirected to keeping the rampant Kangaroos and Lions at bay. Williams, whether at stand-off or centre, was physically strong and competitive in the tackle. He played a total of 61 matches for the Kiwis, scoring 18 tries and kicking 10 goals.
Williams captained New Zealand in the 1975 World Championship game against Wales at Swansea, a match blighted by Jim Mill?s stomping of Kiwi forward John Greengrass. On a happier occasion, Williams led New Zealand Maoris to a thrilling 10-all draw with Australia at Hastings in 1980.
He retired from representative football and accepted a player-coach position at Mt Isa in 1982 and 1983, before returning back to Auckland.
In another era Williams would?ve been a star of the Winfield Cup. Only an International transfer ban prevented him from accepting any number of offers which came his way. But when the Kiwis held their reunion 20 years later, Williams was adamant he would have changed nothing ? looking at his former team-mates he said, ?otherwise I would have missed the chance to play with these blokes?.