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How it’s turned out for Owen Williams, the wonderful talent who walked away from his Wales career at 28

The time difference between Cardiff and Osaka doesn’t make for easy Six Nations viewing.

Owen Williams, in the midst of his Japanese adventure, hasn’t been able to catch Wayne Pivac’s side live as they grind out win after win.

But from afar, he’s been equally impressed and surprised at how Wales have put themselves on the brink of a clean sweep.

“Put it this way, before the Six Nations you wouldn’t have said they’d potentially win a Grand Slam, would you?” he admits.

“It’s quite difficult to watch the games live so we usually wake up the next morning and watch them back.

“I’m just glad for the boys to be honest. They’ve had a tough year leading up to this so it’s nice to see them winning with smiles on their faces.

“They’ve had luck on their side perhaps with the two red cards which obviously helps, but it’s nice to see them grinding out wins.”

For Williams, there’s an element of knowing he could easily have been involved.

He was involved in Pivac’s first Six Nations squad a year ago, even being included in the matchday squad for the clash with Ireland before pulling out injured in the warm-up.

And so, when the move to Japanese side Red Hurricanes was announced last year, the chapter on Williams’ Wales career appeared to close – possibly for the last time.

Because while he’s still relatively young at the age of 28, the subject of adding to his handful of Welsh outings – which all came in 2017 – is a total non-starter while he’s still out in Japan.

The desire to pull on the red jersey though, is still there.

“Never say never,” admits Williams.

“I definitely still would like to play for Wales. It’s about if I get offered a contract back home.

“It’s down to that as I can’t play anywhere else to play for Wales.”

“I had a good chat with Wayne before I signed out here. We had a few conversations on the phone.”

Under Warren Gatland, Williams almost symbolised the gameplan that the Kiwi at times dabbled with, but never committed to. Williams’ short run in the Welsh jersey was part of Gatland’s brief experiment with a more expansive game.

It didn’t last long. Soon after, he went back to what he knew best and with it, the 2019 Grand Slam followed.

Pivac is more steadfast in his approach to attacking rugby. Would a playmaker in the mould of Williams, capable of playing fly-half or inside centre, be suited to the style Pivac is developing?

“I think I’d fit in well with how Wayne wants to play, but it’s not down to me,” Williams says.

“I’m not the guy picking the team so we’ll wait and see.”

Pivac has seen Williams close up and vice versa, albeit briefly. His pursuit of a fourth cap ended cruelly in Dublin last year, after pulling out in the warm-up with a torn hamstring.

In that sense, there’s now a bit of unfinished business for Williams when it comes to Wales.

“You could say that. I was pretty devastated at the time.

“I’d just come back from a knee reconstruction, played four or five games. I was going to play against Ireland and then 20 minutes before kick-off, it happened.

“You can’t get much closer to a cap than that. That hit me for six. I was pretty devastated having been out for 10 months before that.

“And then coronavirus kicked in so I haven’t played much rugby in the last two years. It’s just nice to get that love of the game back and just play rugby again.

“It’s (playing for Wales) an itch I’d like to scratch but we’ll just see when.”

One of the issues Williams would face if he did come back is the growing competition for midfield spots in Pivac’s squad.

When he departed, the Welsh centre cupboard was considerably more bare. Not so anymore.

Wales are now blessed with a number of midfield options. They have six centres to choose from for Saturday’s trip to France.

“That’s one of the conversations I had with Wayne before I left.

“He said if you leave, you give other people the opportunity and in fairness those boys have taken them.

“You’ve got Willis Halaholo, Johnny Williams, Jon Davies, George North. They’re all very good players. It’s a lot more difficult now and the boys are playing well.

“If I did get the opportunity to go back, it’s going to be a tough challenge.”

Even more frustratingly, the man in possession of the 12 jersey at the time, Hadleigh Parkes, also took the decision to leave Wales for Japan.

In another life, Williams might have stayed and been a leading contender to fill the void left by Parkes. Now he’d be playing catch up if he chooses to come back.

Did he even know that the former Scarlets man was calling time on his six-year stint in Wales?

“I knew at the time that Hadleigh was leaving, but you don’t get opportunities like this often in life,” he admits.

“I might not get this chance ever again. It was the right time for me and my wife to try something different and I think it was the right decision.

“We’re really enjoying it so far. Obviously coronavirus makes things a bit more difficult, but so far, so good really.

“In terms of how difficult a decision it was, to be honest I wanted to try something completely different and you might never get an opportunity like this again.

“I thought I might as well go for it and it turned out to definitely be the right decision for me.”

It’s clear it’s a decision he doesn’t regret.

Playing with the likes of TJ Perenara and Makazole Mapimpi is an obvious attraction, while Williams also admits his body feels good after a tough few years with injuries.

“There’s not many games out here which is nice. You get to get your body in a good condition. It’s a good league as well.

“You’re playing against some of the best players in the world and the Japanese boys are good. You get to test yourself on a regular basis.”

He’s even picking up the odd bit of basic Japanese. The question now is whether he’ll need to carry on learning the language.

Or will the lure of more Wales caps prove too tempting?

“I said at the time to Wayne that I’m going away for a year and we’ll see what happens. If I love it here, I could stay. If I get offered a contract, I could go back home.

“I guess we’ll know more in the next month or so.

“I think rugby on the whole has been affected and it’s a lot more difficult to get the contracts you were a few years ago as all clubs are probably struggling.

“Normally, I’d know what I was doing the next season by January. It makes things a lot more difficult. Last year dragged on a bit longer, as did this year. But it’s unprecedented times so you’ve just got to relax through that.

“It’s getting more difficult but hopefully we’ll have something sorted in the next month or so.”

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