Dirk Antony Williams
After Dirk Williams won the 1996 AAMI Medal for the best and fairest player in Sydney’s Shute Shield competition the well renowned rugby journalist Greg Growden wrote that Williams was “the best club player in the past decade not to have appeared in the Australian colours”. Little did Growden know at the time but just a few weeks later, and in perhaps the most unique and quite extraordinary of circumstances, a 35-years young Williams debuted for his adopted country on a freezing night in Scotland.
A classic New Zealand openside flanker, in the mould of the great All Black captain Graham Mourie, Williams built one of the most enviable CVs in school and aged representative rugby having first pulled on the boots for the Arataki Rugby Club aged seven. Williams played four years of 1st XV rugby at Mount Maunganui College (1976-79), two years of New Zealand Schools (1978-79), and two years of New Zealand U21s (1980 & 1982).
After graduation Williams enrolled to study a Bachelor of Physical Education at the University of Otago. In 1981 Williams represented Otago in their 13-17 loss to South Africa, a tour well remembered for its controversy and apartheid-opposed protests. The following year Williams played in Otago’s 12-29 loss to the touring Australians. Williams then returned to the north island and undertook a Diploma of Teaching in Wellington.
In 1987 Williams was picked in a 22-man squad for the first New Zealand Barbarians tour of the U.K. and Ireland. The New Zealand Herald wrote that the tour “served as a prime chance for the All Blacks selectors to send away some of their candidates for the looming inaugural Rugby World Cup.” Williams was the only open side flanker chosen as a young Michael Jones was playing No.8 at the time. Unfortunately, upon the side’s return home, Jones switched to the side of the scrum and Williams’ name was edged out of the final 25-man RWC-winning squad.
Williams then travelled to the U.K. where he played for Harlequins. Instead of returning home, Williams moved to Melbourne in 1989 where he enrolled in a Bachelor of Applied Science (Chiro) at RMIT. As in England, Williams linked up with the Harlequins club, and it didn’t take long for the local selectors to rush him into the Victorian XV. In 1990 Williams captained his new state in their 13-37 loss to the U.S.A however, on the advice of Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer, he then came to Sydney in order to push his claims for a World Cup berth. Williams could not have done more to claim a spot as he debuted for Sydney, against London Irish and captained a Victoria President’s XV against England. While Williams’ outstanding, week-in, week-out play saw him emerge as a ‘dark horse’ for selection, his late run for inclusion fell short so he retired and returned to Melbourne.
In 1992, and back with Harelquins, Williams dived back into representative rugby when he captained the Victoria President’s XV against New Zealand (L 3-53). A year later he captained the state in their 3-78 loss to South Africa. Midway through the 1995 season, Williams relocated to Sydney and played out the year with Eastern Suburbs.
Williams’ swan song 1996 year started as it was to end. Less than an hour before New South Wales were set to kick-off against Wales, Southern Districts’ flanker Steve Talbot withdrew. A desperate plea from Waratah officials, saw Williams -- who as conditioner for the AFL’s Sydney Swans was putting his side through their pre-game paces next door at the Sydney Cricket Ground -- make a most unexpected debut for NSW. Unsurprisingly, Williams had an “exceptional game, always being first to the breakdown, and was a major factor” in the Waratah’s 27-20 win. The press wrote that Williams was “an outstanding man-of-the-match”. He went on to share the Herald Cup with Eastwood’s Matt Burke and, as “an extremely popular winner” won the AAMI Medal, later renamed the Ken Catchpole Medal, outright.
At the end of the season, and with the Wallabies set to embark on a 12-match tour to Italy, Ireland and the U.K., Wallaby coach Greg Smith invited Williams to join the side as team conditioner. Heading into the fifth match against Scottish Districts the squad had lost both Michael Brial (ankle ligaments) and Mark Connors (knee ligaments) to injury before Brett Robinson (hamstring strain) withdrew at the 11th hour. Four days out from the Test, Smith didn’t want to risk playing Dan Manu or David Wilson so he turned to Williams as an emergency substitute. Unsurprisingly, Williams starred. He scored the first try in the 25-9 win and later said, “To play for Australia was a huge thrill, a big, big highlight of my career.”
In 1997 Williams remained as conditioner for the Wallabies before he headed overseas for six years, in the same capacity, with London Irish. In 2004 Williams returned to Australia as rehabilitation coach of the Sydney Swans, a tenure that culminated with the side’s Grand Final success in 2005.
Williams made his debut for Australia in the uncapped 25-9 win over Scottish Districts at McDiarmid Park, Perth