MUNSTER yesterday paraded their two major close season signings, Jim Williams and Rob Henderson, and also announced 28 of their 32 players registered for the forthcoming Celtic League.
Williams and his wife only arrived in Ireland on Wednesday and as bad luck would have it, both he and Henderson are currently injured.
Whereas Williams should have recovered in a fortnight or so from the hand injury he sustained in the thrilling Lions-ACT Brumbies match in June, Henderson may be out of action until Christmas because of the damaged knee he picked up during the tour.
The 32-year-old Williams certainly has the ideal physique to do a big back-row job for Munster. He stands at 6ft 3ins and is almost 18 stone. Having spent most of his career in the centre and wing, has all the essential ball skills and pace. He actually played Rugby League while at school and it wasn't until he joined the Army at the age of 16 that he took up the Union code.
He joined the Young club near Canberra before moving to Brisbane. He continued as a centre and wing, initially with Club West in the Queensland capital, and later with West Hartlepool in the English Premier League.
"I went back to Sydney and New South Wales and at the end of 1997 changed to the back-row and the reason was very simple," he said.
"I played for Warringah in the Australian Grand Final and was marking David Campese. He ran all over me and around me and there and then it was time to move on."
Williams was signed by Rod McQueen for the ACT Brumbies and made his debut for Australia as a replacement against Ireland at Ballymore in June 1999. Australia won the game fairly easily and he also came on during the second Test.
After that, Williams' career took off. He was a member of the victorious Australian World Cup squad later that year and is well remembered in Limerick for his outstanding performance in his only outing against the USA at Thomond Park.
The year 2000 was especially good to big Jim, who went on to help Australia to win the Tri-Nations Championship against South Africa and New Zealand to bring his tally of Aussie appearances to 14. He also played a lead role in the Brumbies' triumph in the Super 12s.
In spite of all that, the 32-year-old Williams was omitted from the Australian side this season.
"Australia were looking for younger blood and so I moved on to Munster and Rod Kafer to Leicester," he said. "I had already experienced the Thomond Park atmosphere in the World Cup and John Langford told me all about the players, how they were serious when they needed to be but full of fun as well. That appealed to me and I'm looking forward to the new challenge."
Williams will have an x-ray on his damaged hand over the next few days and the expectation is that he should be available for selection in the next two weeks.
Two of last year's squad, John Langford (back in Australia) and Peter Bracken (now with Connacht) weren't available while a couple of others, Ultan O'Callaghan and Jerry Murray, have been omitted. Two back-row men, a third scrum-half (Tom Tierney won't be available until November having had major surgery on his injured shoulder) and a threequarter will be added to the panel announced yesterday in time for Monday's deadline.
Munster squad for the Celtic League:
Full-backs, D. Crotty, J. Staunton. Threequarters, A. Horgan, K. Keane, J. Kelly, C. Mahony, M. Mullins, J. O'Neill, A.N. Other. No 10s, J. Holland, R. O'Gara. No 9s, M. Prendergast, P. Stringer, A.N. Other. Props, D. Clohessy, P. Clohessy, J. Hayes, M. Horan, A.N. Other. Hookers, J. Blaney, J. Fogarty, F. Sheehan. Second-rows/back rows, A. Foley, M. Galwey, D. O'Callaghan, P. O'Connell, M. O'Driscoll, A. Quinlan, D. Wallace, J. Williams, A.N. Other, A.N. Other.
Development/Academy/Foundation contracts. D. Bowles, D. Leamy, P. Malone, C. O'Sullivan, M. Lawler, F. Murphy.