Such is the self-belief Liam Williams will take into the aerial battle against the Springboks on Saturday that when asked who was the best in the world at catching the high ball, the British & Irish Lions full-back said: “You’re looking at him.”
“If I don’t believe in myself, nobody else is going to believe in me.”
This was confidence not cockiness from the Wales back-three star, who will replace Stuart Hogg as the Lions’ last line of defence for the final and deciding Test against South Africa at Cape Town Stadium.
Hogg had an unhappy time of it in the air in the second half of last week’s second Test when instead of closing out a series victory following victory in the first game, the tourists wilted in the face of a Springbok backlash, not least with their vastly-improved kick-chase. Williams recognises being successful under the high ball is as much a team effort as well as the individual skillset of the catcher.
“What makes me better than anyone else? My team escorting the opposition team trying to catch it,” he said.
“You know when you play 15, it’s basically your job. I’ve played left wing, right wing and 15. Your job is to catch balls and to chase kicks. Every little thing else you do, you add to the team. I’ve been behind Leigh Halfpenny for years and years and he was one of the best in the air. We’ve worked together for years. That’s basically what we do.”
Williams also accepts that being brought in by Warren Gatland to fix a problem in the previous game brings a certain amount of expectation.
“I am only human. I do feel a bit of pressure. It has been talked about quite a bit this week and it is something I am going to pride my game on at the weekend.
“We’ve been working hard on that aerial contest this week. We know it’s going to be a big challenge in the air and it’s one we’re really looking forward to.”
Williams, 30, revealed what it takes to keep going airborne in search of the ball.
“When the ball is in the air, I’m not one to step back. Going for those balls, for me, is my way to help out my team. Whether I get hurt in the process, that’s just the way it is.
“Of course we’re working on our technique, working on trying to get high and stay square, but you’ve got to have a bit of balls as well.
“You don’t get much time to think about that (risk). I’m going up in the air to get the ball and whether that means a 50-50 clattering in the air, that’s just the way it is.”
The Lions have had to do more than their fair share of competing in the air in this Test series and Williams acknowledged that the South African back three of Makazole Mapimpi, Cheslin Kolbe and full-back Willie Le Roux are experts at the art of challenging for contestable kicks.
“They’ve got two really good wingers and a 15 who can go and chase after those balls. Those three guys are really good in the air so it’s going to be a tough one to meet that challenge. It’s something that we’ve worked on hard this week.”
As the player who four years ago sparked the wonder try for the Lions in the first Test against the All Blacks with a blistering counter-attack from inside his own 22 that was finished by Sean O’Brien, Williams would relish the chance to grab another opportunity to add to the highlight reel.
“That would be great, yeah. It was a great try scored by Seanie in the end. It was all a bit of a blur and I watch it back sometimes and think: “Jesus” - what was I thinking? It all worked out in the end.
“Hopefully in the second half it will open up a touch and I will be able to get some metres in.”