The tie holds special appeal for Williams, given that the Zebre coach Michael Bradley has been an idol since his early days learning the scrum-half trade at CBC.
“I remember watching him at school,” Williams recalls. “I think it was fifth year and we were going to the Irish schoolboys. The scrum-halves were from Cork, myself and Dave O’Leary, and we were both Con men. He came down and did a few sessions with us.
“I think he has done a good job with Zebre. They have come on in leaps and bounds and are a very attack-minded team now and play very entertaining rugby. They have got more points already than they had at the end of the previous seasons. It’s obviously a work in progress, and I think Michael is doing a good job and there’s no better man for it.”
Williams was a keen observer of events in Paris last Saturday and hailed the contribution to Ireland’s nerve-jangling victory of Munster teammates CJ Stander and Conor Murray.
He talks about Stander’s carry that brought play within reach of the French posts and how Murray “threw a beautiful pass” to Johnny Sexton for the all-important drop goal. Asked, though, if he feared they had gone for the win too early, with Sexton still so far from the posts, he said: “That’s the reason he gets the big bucks, you would back him any day of the week to do it.”
It was fascinating to watch the way Murray linked with his teammates from phase to phase, as Ireland moved closer and closer, inch by inch, until finally delivering the decisive pass to Sexton. Would it have been the out-half’s call to go for the match winner at that point rather than wait another few seconds to make the drop goal a more viable proposition?
“Traditionally, Johnny would be organising the forwards, saying not yet, not yet, and, when he gives that call, you hit him with the pass. I’d imagine he called for it when he saw CJ go forward. Obviously, the French didn’t expect him to get that far and their defence had to go back another yard or two and, for our lads, there was always the fear of a knock-on.”
Away from the Six Nations glare, Williams and those teammates available to Munster can look forward to a block of four games, opportunities to catch the eye of coach Johann van Graan.
“Qualifying for the quarter-finals in Europe and all the calculations trying to figure out where we were and what was going on during the last few minutes against Castres has made for a great buzz,” said Williams. “It will be great to have another home quarter-final. I remember the Toulouse game last year was unbelievable and the crowd were brilliant. It will give everyone another day out and hopefully we’ll have another one after that.”
Guinness PRO14: Munster v Zebre
Thomond Park, 7.35pm
Munster 1/80, Zebre 25/1, Draw 75/1