Two young Wales players have shown the benefit of a multi-sport approach at this World Cup. Aaron Wainwright’s football background has been widely celebrated, but the basketball skills of Tomos Williams have been just as significant, says Kasey Rees.
As Wales prepare to face New Zealand on Friday in the World Cup third-place play-off, those looking for uplifting signs for the future could do worse than consider the impact of Tomos Williams.
For his last World Cup campaign Warren Gatland has certainly seen the benefit in selecting multi-skilled players – those such as ex-footballer Aaron Wainwright and Williams, whose background is in basketball.
Dubbed as a ‘super sub’ by those who have marvelled at his influence in the tournament when he has come on for regular starting No.9 Gareth Davies, the Cardiff Blues scrum-half has made as interesting a route to the top in rugby as former Cardiff City and Newport County midfielder Wainwright.
Williams – who could start ahead of Davies against the All Blacks – has certainly put his basketball skills to play in Japan. The first time he reminded fans of his sublime handling skills was when he jumped in the air, in touch, in the pool match against Australia – keeping the ball in play and helping Wales stay in possession with just four minutes left.
The second obvious time his court skills came to the fore was against France in the quarter-final, when the 24-year-old ripped the ball from a maul to set up Ross Moriarty with the vital try just as it seemed time was ticking away.
So, it leads to the question, can being multi-skilled across a variety of sports give a rugby player an edge? Williams – who grew up in Treorchy – has certainly demonstrated that being multi-skilled in two sports can compliment the other. The hand-eye coordination skills, athleticism in stopping the ball from leaving play, ball-in-hand skills – all these can be used in both basketball and rugby.
Williams played spent more time on court indoors as a youngster than he did out on the rugby field. His former club, RCT Gladiators, have watched him transfer familiar skills.
A club spokesperson said: “Tomos grew up playing both basketball and rugby, and all the skills he learned as a basketball player transfer well into rugby.
“He can use all his ball-handling and quick thinking he used to great effect then, now playing rugby.
“His acts of ripping the ball from an opponent and saving the ball from going out of play against Australia and France were both spectacular.
“He did what he could to help the team and Tomos is used to that. When it happens in rugby he can do it without thinking about it.”
Williams has certainly lived up to that tag of super sub throughout the tournament and the Rhondda-based club are proud of what they saw.
“We are extremely proud to see the things he is able to achieve, both internationally and at club level. It is superb that he has been able to make a career as a professional sports person, even if it is not in basketball.
“Tomos can be proud with what he achieved out in Japan. He has played really well in his first World Cup. Now, hopefully he can carry a lot of confidence from that into the club season with the Blues and, hopefully, it won’t be the last World Cup for him.”
Williams has now emerged as a real rival to Davies for the starting spot as Wales’ No.9.
The Blues player has won 15 caps in just over a year and although 11 of them have been from off the bench he has managed to score five tries.
His basketball skills have been an eye-opener to most fans, although he is not the first Wales international to share a background in both sports. Wales and Ospreys centre Cory Allen played a lot of basketball as a youngster, while former Pontypridd flanker Richie Collins was capped for Wales in both sports.
Wales fan David Caruso, from Pontypridd admitted: “I was unaware of Tomos Williams’ basketball background, but what I do know is basketball is a physical sport and it develops a lot of ball-in-hand skills as well as catching.
“Being a multi-skilled player, his mindset enables us to change the way we play if needs be. He is a fantastic player and provides another option to Gareth Davies. When he is brought on the pitch, he is brilliant – like a sniper.
“He is an impact player rather than a full 80 minutes one. But after seeing some fantastic plays from him in the tournament he has more than proved his worth and deserves to be in this Welsh team in the future.”