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14th September 2015

Ali Williams calls Nemani Nadolo a “freak” – but in a good way

September 14, 2015: World Cup winner Ali Williams has described massive Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo as a “freak” ahead of the Rugby World Cup, where the Flying Fijians will tackle England, Wales, Australia and Uruguay in Pool A.

Frequently compared to Jonah Lomu throughout his career, the 1.96-metre, 125-kg Nadolo was the star of the GFI HKFC Tens in 2012 as he helped the BGC Asia-Pacific Dragons win the popular 10-a-side tournament for the first time.

The enormous winger had arrived in Hong Kong after finishing as the 2011-12 Japanese Top League’s leading try scorer in his first season with NEC Green Rockets, but was otherwise little known after earlier stints in Australia (Manly, Randwick, Junior Waratahs), France (Bourgoin) and England (Exeter).

However, after signing for New Zealand’s Crusaders in late 2013, Nadolo finished as Super Rugby’s leading try scorer last year and this season was again his team’s top try scorer as well as third overall, despite the team not making the playoffs.

Williams, who won 77 caps for New Zealand from 2002 to 2013, said he now expects Nadolo to turn on the style in the World Cup’s Group of Death.

“I think he can make a huge impact. He’s a freak,” said Williams, who four years ago helped New Zealand lift the Webb Ellis Trophy in his third straight World Cup.

Williams was speaking at a ‘Giants of Rugby’ charity dinner with fellow locks David Giffin (Australia) and Simon Shaw (England), World Cup winners in 1999 and 2003 respectively.

“Nadolo is one of those X-factor players that can do something that unfortunately we just couldn’t do,” Williams laughed. “These guys are what rugby’s about. You’ve got the mixture of people that can just do the job and you’ve got the freaks, who can offer something from nothing. You’ve got to have those guys. They’re an excitement factor.”

However, England legend Shaw admitted he knew little about a winger who is far from a household name in the northern hemisphere.

“This is the first time I’ve heard his name – but he sounds scary,” Shaw admitted. “I hope he doesn’t embarrass England as Lomu did in 1995.”

Williams thinks the All Blacks have an even stronger squad than four years ago when they lifted the World Cup for only the second time, having won the inaugural edition in 1987 as New Zealand co-hosted the event with Australia.

“I think the squad’s just as good, to be honest, if not better,” Williams said. “You’ve got a bit more youth in this team and you’ve got guys who have been there and done it, made a lot of mistakes but also know how to win it. I think they’re in a better position than they were last time.”

Back-rowers Richie McCaw, Kieran Reid, Jerome Kaino and Victor Vito return from the 2011 squad along with centres Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams, props Tony Woodcock and Ben and Owen Franks, lock Sam Whitelock, and veteran hooker Keven Mealamu.

However, Williams has his doubts about newcomer Nehe Milner-Skudder, who scored two tries on his All Blacks debut against Australia, but has only two tests under his belt. Veteran fullback Israel Dagg – who like Milner-Skudder has played at the GFI HKFC Tens – didn’t make the final cut.

“He’s definitely a talented player, no doubting that. But is raw talent the one that wins it in the World Cup? I’d beg to differ. I would have picked Israel,” Williams said. “I was surprised, but that guy’s got a huge future.”

Milner-Skudder helped Penguins win the Tens in 2013, while Dagg helped New Zealand Metro win a third straight title at Hong Kong Football Club in 2008. The 31st GFI HKFC Tens will be held at Hong Kong Football Club from April 6-7, 2016.

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