Smiles, tears as Williams pushes for Black Ferns 7s return

Source: 1News

There was no shortage of pain in Tauranga on Friday as the Black Ferns Sevens began training for their 2022 season, but none of it could wipe the smile from Niall Williams' face.

"The feeling, there's just nothing like it - even putting on my boots in the changing room," Williams told 1News.

"I'm just so grateful, I just keep smiling because I'm just happy to be back here out at the park training."

Backtrack seven months and it was a completely different story; Williams was in tears in a social media video she recorded showing the raw and emotional moment of realisation her Tokyo dreams were over with a neck injury.

At the time, Williams was informed that not only would she miss out on her Olympic dream of the past five years but also that there was a very real chance she would never play the game she loves ever again.

"Straight away, I got a bit of a dose of reality," she said.

"At that moment, going to the Olympics didn't seem so massive because my livelihood was about to get taken away from me.

"It's been tough."

Niall Williams.

Thankfully, after consultations with experts and New Zealand Rugby's medical team, Williams was able to have a surgery last year that would give her a chance to return to the field.

Williams isn't getting ahead of herself though with the 33-year-old training away from the rest of the squad currently as she continues her comeback journey.

"Even though I'm not quite back yet amongst [the team], it puts the fire in the belly.

"But like with any other injury, there's no guarantee I'll actually play again but if it's up to me, there will be no stone left unturned.

"I can confidently say I will give it everything I can... we won't put a timer on it, but the time will come."

'I have all my gold medals around me'

The Black Ferns Sevens celebrate their gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

While Williams is thankful for be back in the Black Ferns Sevens after her heartbreak last June, there are still some things that hurt too much to face.

She described the past seven months as a "grieving process" she's still learning from.

"I lost something that I worked so hard towards," she said.

"It gets easier but you never forget it... to tell you the truth, I haven't held one of the girls' gold medals yet because I can't, I just can't physically bring myself to do that yet.

"But in saying that, I'm so happy and proud of them and each girl is so deserving of their medal."

Part of Williams' recovery has been finding new perspective in her life not just as a rugby player, but as a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter as well.

"When I stepped back and looked at it, I have all my gold medals around me - I've got my family, I've got my daughters, I've got this team and I get to live the dream.

"That's my gold medal and it helps me get up each day."

Niall Williams.

Williams added she's discovered plenty about herself over the past year as well.

"The biggest thing I learned was that my life is not just rugby - it's my family, kids, my partner," she said holding back tears.

"They're the ones who have been there the most and seen me struggle and got me through and never gave up even when I wanted to.

"I've learned to cherish those moments."

Williams has four months to continue her rehabilitation before the Black Ferns Sevens are back in action after it was confirmed earlier Friday both New Zealand's sevens side would miss January's tournaments in Malaga and Seville due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The All Blacks Sevens hope to be at the Vancouver men's round near the end of next month, but there's no guarantee given the travel rules.

The Black Ferns Sevens' next event isn't until April 30 in Langford, Canada.

In the meantime, Williams is just taking each day as it comes.

"You've just got to have a bit of perspective in life and just enjoy these moments," she said.

"One day, it will come to an end but I'm really content and I've learned to be content with my life.

"It's the biggest blessing I could have."