By Paul Jones
Can newcomer Sam Moore make the same impact as Nick Williams? The son of former Wales lock Steve Moore certainly has big boots to fill.
Moore has been impressing everyone in training at Cardiff Blues since joining from Sale Sharks and turning his attentions away from representing England to playing for the land of his father, uncle and the city where he was born.
A knee injury helped to take him off Eddie Jones’ radar and now he will get the chance of a new beginning in a Blues shirt.
With the 36-year-old Williams finally confirming he is hanging up his boots after 16 years as a professional player, there is an obvious gap to be filled in the Blues back row.
Josh Navidi can play at No. 8, Shane Lewis-Hughes is big enough to fill the role, and the evergreen Josh Turnbull can play there at a push.
Jones called 21-year-old Moore into his Six Nations squad in 2018 to take a look at him, but injuries derailed what seemed to be rapid progress towards a full England cap to add to those at U16, 18, 19 and 20 levels.
With the gap now left by Williams’ retirement, and the fact the giant New Zealander will be hanging around to offer some tips from the top, Moore could be in the perfect place to make the final step onto the senior international stage.
Williams leaves the Blues after four seasons. The former North Harbour, Auckland Blues, Aironi, Munster and Ulster player made 77 appearances for the Welsh capital side and became a cult figure on the terraces at the Arms Park.
Having come to Cardiff from Ulster in 2016, he played a major role in helping the Blues win the European Challenge Cup for the second time two years later.
“It’s sad not to have had one last run out at the Arms Park but with Covid-19, and everything that has come with it, there have been much bigger things to worry about,” said Williams.
“I’ve been blessed to play this game for so long and could never have imagined I would be a professional for 16 years and travel to so many brilliant places around the world.
“When I arrived in Cardiff, I knew this would be my last club and I have tried to make the most out of every single minute. It has been a really special time and the welcome my family received has been unbelievable.
“Winning the European Challenge Cup a couple of years ago is an obvious highlight, but I will also just miss the day-to-day and being with the boys around the place.
“I’m so grateful and have nothing but love for everyone at the Arms Park, from teammates and coaches, to the brilliant staff and sponsors, who have also been great to me, and, of course, the awesome fans.
“It has been a hell of a ride and I’m grateful to all the teams I have been part of. If I could carry on playing then I would, but the game has taken its toll and my wife has already sacrificed so much. I’m now looking forward to the next chapter with my family.
“We’re settled here now, this is our home and I’m looking forward to sharing a beer with some of the supporters on the terrace when we get back to the Arms Park.”
Born in Auckland to Samoan parents, Williams played rugby league through his youth and switched to union late.
He was taken under the wing of Mark Anscombe, father of Gareth, and quickly progressed to North Harbour and Blues honours.
He played in 37 Super Rugby games for the Blues and earned four Junior All Blacks caps before making the move to Europe. He spent two years at both Munster and Aironi, before reuniting with Anscombe at Ulster.
He spent four successful seasons at Ravenhill and was named PRO14 Player of the Year in 2013. Renowned for his devastating ball carrying, soft hands and breakdown ability, he quickly established himself as a key figure both on and off the pitch at the Arms Park.
“Nick has been an enormous figure for us both on and off the field and will be missed by all of us at the Arms Park,” said Blues head coach John Mulvihill.
“His qualities on the pitch have always spoken for themselves, he is a big and physically imposing player but also possesses a quality skill set that defies his size and is very good over the ball.
“What people don’t always see is the leadership and cultural drive that he brings to our environment each and every day. He has been a great servant to Cardiff Blues and has had a major influence on the entire squad.”