Rugby Union

Ulster working on Nick Williams' replacement

Nick Williams' maurading presence at number 8 will be missed by Ulster when he departs for Cardiff in the summer. Picture by Hugh Russell
Cahair O'Kane

ULSTER are working hard on a replacement for Nick Williams, says director of rugby Les Kiss.

The big number 8 will join Cardiff Blues in the summer after four seasons at the Kingspan Stadium.

He produced another mammoth man-of-the-match display in Saturday’s 56-3 win over Oyonnax, which wasn’t quite enough to save them from exiting the European Champions Cup.

The New Zealand-born has been pivotal to Ulster’s back row over the past couple of seasons and Kiss concedes that he will leave a huge gap when he goes.

“It’s going to be hard to fill that, but we’re working on something and hopefully the solution is good.

“Nick and Stuart McCloskey giving you that [attacking impetus] in tandem is something that’s served us well. We only had Nick [against Oyonnax], we only had Stuart last week [against Saracens]. He’s a big player to replace.”

Chris Henry may rejoin him in the back row for this weekend’s Guinness Pro12 trip to Treviso, while Kyle McCall and Ian Humphreys should also both be fit despite going off on Saturday.

“Kyle’s wasn’t super major, but he had a cut on his head from the last game so we decided not to bring him back on.

“It’s important for us to have Callum Black and Andy Warwick playing the ‘A’ games. It’s nice to be loaded in our loosehead. He’ll be fine.

“Chris may be right next week, we’re not sure, but we know Sean [Reidy] is loaded and doing a good job at the moment.

“They took Ian off as a precaution but there’s no real issue.”

Kiss also praised Jared Payne, who had a superb game in the eight-try demolition of the French visitors at the Kingspan.

Payne only made his return from a broken foot in last week’s loss at Saracens, and continued at full-back for an hour before moving to outside centre late on.

The Ulster boss paid tribute to the Ireland international’s awareness of space.

“We’ll use him in both [full-back and centre], without a doubt. Coming back from his foot injury, to start from 15 was a good way to work his way back in.

“He finished the game at 13 and you could see his influence there as well. He’s a class player. You could play him at 10 and he would do a job for you.

“When he has the extra space, he plays it exceptionally well. But when he hasn’t got that space, he’s still very savvy to pick the line he needs. We saw a bit of both. If I had to play him at wing, he could play it.”

Meanwhile, second row Lewis Stevenson has been released from his contract by mutual agreement and he will join Exeter Chiefs with immediate effect.

Stevenson was under contract until the end of the season, but having started just four games during this campaign, an early release was agreed to allow him to explore other options.

The 31-year-old lock had a spell with Exeter during the 2008/09 season, before a two-year spell with Harlequins and then a move back to Belfast in 2011 to join Ulster.

Stevenson made 89 appearances over five years for his home province, scoring one try, which came against Treviso at Kingspan Stadium earlier this season.

However, with the emergence of Alan O’Connor and last week’s announcement that Kieran Treadwell will join from Harlequins in the summer, Stevenson felt the time was right to leave.

"I am extremely proud to have played a part in this Ulster team over the last five seasons. Every time I pulled on the shirt it meant something to me,” he said.

“However, the time is right for me to face a new challenge and I am excited about being part of Exeter Chiefs again. I appreciate how Ulster has handled this and I wish them every success for the rest of the season.”

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