All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams and lock Ali Williams arrived at a news conference Wednesday with a carefully rehearsed routine designed to lighten the mood four days out from New Zealand's World Cup Final against France.
But when the act received only glares of disapproval, Williams and Williams reverted to normal, showing they're better at sincerity than at comedy and painting a vivid picture of an All Black team on the cusp of history.
The Williams', who are not related, began the news conference by pretending to interpret for each other, whispering translations of questions, then providing only the briefest of answers. The act continued to audible groans from the audience until the players were reminded that a New Zealand public desperate to end a long World Cup drought would expect a professional approach before such an important match.
Ali Williams already has a well-established reputation as something of a joker, once turning up to an All Blacks training session dressed in a Spiderman suit. When he answered questions seriously, the veteran lock was engaging, providing clear insights into the mindset of the All Blacks players ahead of what may be a life-changing match.
"I think if you're too relaxed then you can overlook the little things, the intricacies of the game but if you're not relaxed enough you get too tense and you don't enjoy the moment," Ali Williams said. "I know some of the guys are a bit frustrated (with the joking) but we're just trying to enjoy the week, we want to have fun and ... come Sunday night it will take care of itself and the best team will win."
Ali Williams said a World Cup victory would mean as much to the seasoned members of the All Blacks team as it would to the rookies, for differing reasons. Most of the veterans had experience of New Zealand's quarterfinal loss to France in 2007 and that was a major motivation at this tournament. The younger players drew their inspiration from other sources but, collectively, the All Blacks players were equally determined to win.
"I think it's new for us all but I think we're all good enough to deal with the week in all of its individual aspects," he said.
"This is different. Training [sessions] are probably a little bit lighter because the reality is," it is a make-or-break match, he added. "That's the reality of how we're looking at it.
"I don't think it changes for me or for the younger guys. For me it's the stuff before that makes this so enjoyable, for the younger guys maybe it's small things like their adrenaline and their focus. It hasn't been such a long road but it still means such as much."
Williams has never experienced in his nine years as an All Black the level of support the New Zealand team had enjoyed throughout the World Cup.
"I don't think you can put it into words to be honest," he said. "I've never seen the country like this in my life ... this is just another world. I haven't had to pay for one breakfast at my local cafe yet, which is pretty brilliant.
"The flags on the cars, the excitement of people getting into it ... I think the reality is once again they haven't focused too much on the result. They've focused on the whole event and for Kiwis that's pretty special and I think we can probably walk away from this and learn as well, regardless of what happens at the weekend."
Williams said the atmosphere at Eden Park last weekend, when New Zealand beat Australia 20-6 in its semifinal, was "the best I've ever been in."
"The reality is when people are roaring like that you don't miss a tackle, you've got that extra half a centimetre in a stride," he said. "It's just mind-blowing the noise that's generated and the reality is it does things for you when you're playing that you can't explain."
Sonny Bill Williams said he had also found the fan support beyond his experience in any part of his sporting career, in Rugby Union, Rugby League or boxing. He said the All Blacks were well aware of the expectations they are carrying.
"I think everyone understands that and I think that's what we've embraced as a team, that the whole of New Zealand is watching us and loving us and wanting us to do really well," he said. "We all know that as a team and as individuals as well. You can just see it as we walk down the street. The amount of support we've got has been crazy and it's been really cool to be a part of that, something we'll all cherish for the rest of our lives."
Ali Williams said the All Blacks now have to harness their support to round off a strong campaign with a giant performance against France.
"It's about stepping up another level," he said. "Last week's performance won't be good enough.
"I don't care what you think or what you've seen in the last weeks, they'll be a completely different side. They'll be a team that's possessed, they'll bring everything to us and if we're not at that level and better, then we'll walk away with nothing.
"For us this means everything and we've got to give everything."
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