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Williams reaches a crossroads in the harsh world of the pro rugby player.

Byline: MATTHEW SOUTHCOMBE Sports writer matthew.southcombe@walesonline.co.uk

SPORT is a volatile industry and life as a professional athlete can be fragile.

A little over a year ago, former Scarlets winger Tom Williams was picking up his winners medal after helping the region win the Guinness PRO12.

Now he's without a contract, has been helping out on a building site and is improving his business skills with a wealth management company.

During the 2016/17 Six Nations, the 27-year-old scored a try in every fixture the Scarlets played in February - three in the Guinness PRO12 and one in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Whilst their big stars were away with their countries, the Scarlets lost just one league game.

It was an unheralded period of their season but was critically important to ensuring they ended up on top of the pile when all was said and done.

When the new season came around, Williams was looking to build on those eye-catching performances and nail down a regular place in the side but a shoulder problem meant that he wasn't given that opportunity.

As a result of that, game time has since been at a premium for the wellliked member of the squad and when he was pulled aside by head coach Wayne Pivac after an April training session, and he feared the worst.

"Wayne came and grabbed me after a day of training and took me to his office," said Williams.

"He sat me down and he talked me through his thought process behind not offering me a new contract.

"I understood where he was coming from.

"He sent me away with his best wishes and Jon Daniels (Scarlets General Manager) was the same.

"I did have my concerns. I hadn't heard anything about any potential new deal for a few weeks so I kind of saw it coming.

"It's part and parcel of being a professional rugby player. It's not nice but you have to accept it and move on.

"I don't feel any sort of bitterness towards the region. I wish them well in the future and I'll keep an eye on their results."

Williams was then in a peculiar position.

He had been told that his services were not required in the long term, but was still under contract for another six weeks or so and it was a critical point in the region's season.

They had a Champions Cup semifinal, one of the biggest games in the region's history, and the PRO14 playoffs to prepare for. Everyone needed to be on board.

He was given the ultimate excuse to down tools but the winger, who can also play full-back, saw the bigger picture and, to his credit, was able to put the disappointment behind him.

"It was difficult but I was still under contract so I had an obligation to the region and to continue working hard," he insisted.

"I had to keep doing what was best for the team and that was to help us prepare for some big games towards the end of the season.

"I actually really enjoyed the last couple of weeks with all the boys, just taking it all in and making the most of spending time with them.

"It was nice to be part of. Like myself, some of the boys had been handed some bad news but everyone put it behind them to do what was best for the team.

"On the whole, I think it was a very successful season."

His commendable approach also extends beyond the training paddock.

In many ways, Williams' current predicament is relatable. There is no longer money coming in on payday, his former team-mates are back in pre-season training - life isn't as it was 12 months ago.

Fortunately, he is not in a financially vulnerable position, having been smart with his money in the past but the boredom was a bigger problem.

Not one to simply sit on his hands, he has been working to develop himself in different ways. He's been lending a hand to his friend building a new shop in his hometown of Cowbridge.

He's also been working with Juno Moneta, a wealth management company in St Mellons, to gain experience and learn new skills.

"There was a point where it hit me but you can't dwell on it," said Williams. "I just tried to keep busy. My friend has a project that he's working on and I wanted to help him and learn some skills on site.

"So I went down there with him for a few weeks.

"I didn't get into it for the money, I wasn't getting paid. It was just purely so that I could learn some new skills.

"I didn't want to be just sitting around all day worrying about what was coming next, so I decided to go and help him out.

"I was doing quite a lot for him. I was doing a bit of carpentry, plasterboards, bricklaying. Carrying all the cement was probably keeping my fit! It was tough!

"I'm into property development, so I just wanted to learn a few skills so that if I was to do something in the backyard one day, I could do it on my own instead of ringing someone.

He added: "I've also been working with Juno Moneta, just to learn a bit more about business and improve my business development skills.

"That's been great for me because it's taken my mind off things.

"That said, during all of that, I've been keeping fit so that when the opportunity does come, I can jump on it."

Williams has relied on his family for support in recent months. He maintains the friendships he made in his three years down west but rugby is in his blood.

His father, Brynmor, played three Tests on the British and Irish Lions' 1977 tour of New Zealand and his brother, Lloyd, who currently plays for the Cardiff Blues, has featured for Wales at two World Cups.

"I didn't really go looking for advice, I just wanted someone to talk to about the situation.

"That's what your family is for and I turned to Lloyd and my dad has obviously been in the game a long time now.

"Having their support, as well as the rest of my family, was huge for me.

"But I don't want to dwell on it, I just want to kick on.

"I've been doing most of my training with Lloyd. A bit of running down Pontcanna fields."

For now, Williams insists he isn't worried by his current situation. Whilst his 'dream' is to play into his late 30s, he has a number of other avenues he could explore should the worst happen.

He was also keen to praise the Welsh Rugby Players' Association, who have been in constant contact with him since being released - checking up on his mental and financial wellbeing, whilst also offering work experience opportunities.

"They couldn't have done more for me since I left the Scarlets, I can't speak highly enough of the WRPA" said Williams.

He remains optimistic, though being told late on last season that a new contract wouldn't come left him and his agent little time to seek potential employers.

But whilst his agent works to seal a new contract - interest has been coming from France and New Zealand - Williams has just been keeping himself in shape so that he's ready when the opportunity arises.

And he could be about to get that chance in the next few weeks with the Cardiff Blues. He's currently in talks with the region about a potential trial but it's something he's never experienced before.

There would be absolutely no guarantee of a contract at the end of it but, if nothing else, it could be a foot in the door.

"If I was to get a trial, it would involve me training with them for a period of time and then it's just about trying to make an impression," he says.

"I'd be looking to showcase my skills and what I have to offer them.

"They've got some brilliant coaches in their setup and I've read some great things about John Mulvihill.

"I'd be excited to work with them. I'm sure I could learn a lot there."

What can often be lost on onlookers is that professional athletes are human beings first. Just like the rest of us.

Players that operate on the fringes of squads are not in the position of many of their team-mates, whose main concern is not whether or not there will be an offer, but how many zeros will be on the end of it.

Williams is preparing for a job interview this month that will last weeks - his career as a professional rugby player may will hinge on whether it is successful or not.

Life at the top is fragile.

CAPTION(S):

Tom Williams in try-scoring action for the Scarlets last season

Tom Williams ponders his future at Penarth marina
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 3, 2018
Words:1495
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