Wales wing replacement Liam Williams can handle New Zealand test
WALES are backing Liam Williams not to freeze when he faces world champions New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow (5.15pm).
Drafted in as a late wing replacement for the injured George North, the 21-year-old Gowerton Comprehensive School product will be making his first Test appearance against another country.
It couldn't get tougher, with the All Blacks providing the opposition, but Wales are confident ex-scaffolder Williams has the nerve to handle the most testing occasion of his fledgling career.
"Liam is grounded as an individual and is aware of the challenge, but he's full of life, doesn't take a backward step and gives as good as he gets," said Robin McBryde.
"The signs are that he is ready to face the All Blacks, but there's only one way to find out.
"It's a question not just for youngsters but for any senior player who has yet to face the All Blacks. You don't know how they'll react until they are actually on the field."
But there was no disguising the seriousness of North's loss.
The 6ft 4in, 17st 3lb Scarlets wing injured a hip in training. Wales gave him a couple of days to see if the problem responded to treatment but had to concede defeat yesterday, though North could make the game with Australia on December 1.
Williams played against the Barbarians in June and is feisty, quick and fearless, but Wales will be forced to revise their attacking options without North's raw power.
"We are well aware of the threats George possesses with his strong running, his work-rate and his ability under the high ball and to break tackles," said McBryde.
"There is no denying that it's a blow but we are fortunate to have a good deputy in Liam, who has been playing consistently well for the Scarlets."
Wales toyed with the idea of using either Williams or James Hook at full-back and switching Leigh Halfpenny to wing, but were dissuaded from such a course by Halfpenny's outstanding form at No. 15.
"Leigh has been playing so well at full-back the decision was taken to leave him there and bring in someone who can play on the wing," said McBryde.
North's injury is the latest in a line of heavy blows for the squad this autumn, with Adam Jones, Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Richard Hibbard, Dan Biggar, Ian Evans and Josh Turnbull among those ruled out by injury.
The first challenge tomorrow will be to stand up to New Zealand at forward and cope with the breakdown mastery of Richie McCaw, the Kiwis' captain and peerless openside flanker.
It will be a big game for Sam Warburton.
He has had his critics this season, but a compelling display in opposition to McCaw could turn around his campaign and put him back on track to skipper the Lions in Australia next summer.
Asked how he felt Warburton would cope with the ultimate challenge for a No. 7, McBryde replied: "Ably.
"It's good for Sam that he has got competition with Justin Tipuric. It keeps them both on their toes and makes training that bit more competitive.
"He will not be caught cold and knows he is up against a world-class seven. He will make sure everything is right mentally.
"He is quite composed and has both feet on the floor and knows what's ahead of him. It will be a challenge that's well worth the wait."