By Michelle Curran
Having navigated his way successfully through the sometimes-challenging post-rugby transition, Paul Williams is a welcome addition to Pacific Rugby Players (PRP).
The former Samoa, Super Rugby and French Top 14 back has accepted a role as the player relationship manager for France, something which the 37-year-old is eager to invest his energy and years of experience into.
Considering the environment Paul was born into, it is no wonder he wandered down the professional rugby pathway.
As the son of Sir Tuifa’asisina Bryan Williams KNZM MBE, a former All Black and coach of Samoa, and younger brother to Gavin, who represented Samoa, and played seasons with Connacht, US Dax and Clermont, rugby has been a huge part of Paul’s life for as long as he can remember.
“I started playing rugby for Ponsonby, my family club, at the age of six,” Paul says, and his strong affiliation to the Auckland club rugby powerhouse remains to this day.
The former Mount Albert Grammar School head prefect was selected for New Zealand Under-19s in 2002 before kitting up for various provincial and Super Rugby teams, followed by a season with United Kingdom club Sale in 2010.
In 2011, he joined Top 14 side Stade Francais Paris, where he stayed until his retirement from rugby seven years later.
Paul declared his intention to play for Samoa in 2010 and made his debut against Tonga in the 2010 IRB Pacific Nations Cup.
Representing Samoa was the pinnacle of his rugby career, he says.
Two and a half years after retiring from the game, and life could not be better for Paul and his family, who are based in Anglet, South West France.
“The professional grind made me want to take a complete break from rugby, so after finishing at Stade Francais Paris in mid-2018, I was sure to enjoy a great European summer holiday as my first priority – enjoying the freedom of no longer having to fit life into the professional rugby schedule and without another looming pre-season to worry about.”
During this time, Paul and partner Helen also welcomed their third child, Telesia – a little sister for Toa, 6, and four-year-old Monty.
A freer schedule enabled Paul to invest more time into his golf game; while also trying out new activities he was not allowed to do contractually as a player, such as skiing.
“I’ve caught the bug so look to get to the mountains with the family when we can – my two boys are up and skiing too so it’s a great sense of adventure to share with them.”
Paul also completed a business course, and through an uncanny set of events, he was presented the opportunity to put his business plan of selling kiwi-style meat pies in France to immediate use.
“I partnered with a pre-existing company, and I have since established a small business importing and selling New Zealand pies in France.
“It has been a great learning curve, and I have not been too concerned about eating my way through my profits.”
When the PRP player relationship manager role in France came up for grabs, it struck Paul as one of those rare opportunities to combine passion with profession.
“I know how challenging it can be for young players to live away from home, or specific to this role, live on the other side of the world in a country with a new language and culture.
“I am also aware of too many players that did not fully capitalise on their professional careers to set themselves up for their post-rugby careers and lives.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel I have built up a fair bit of experience where I will be able to help guide and educate younger players to both better enjoy and capitalise on their professional careers.”
Paul is fortunate to have come through the rugby academy system in Auckland and is aware of the subjects and topics of use to players, he adds.
“It has been interesting for me to hear old mates who came through the same system say they were not taught about certain topics or encouraged to do certain things (or at least they cannot recall the content).
“This role presents me the opportunity to try and have more of a positive and long-lasting impact on the players I will be interacting with.”
Boasting an Accountancy degree from Auckland University of Technology, Paul has always been interested in numbers, budgeting, and investing, areas where he feels he can offer players assistance.
“Financial pressure seems to be the most significant stress for player’s who struggle with their rugby retirement, so guidance and education for players in this space will no doubt have a big impact.
“My career saw me move a lot … so experiences like living away from home and the associated isolation, missing big family events, and experiencing both good and successful clubs, agents, coaches along with the not so good, prepares me well to understand and sympathise with some of the challenges current players will be experiencing.”
Pacific Rugby Players chief executive Aayden Clarke says having Paul on-board is invaluable to the organisation.
“Paul has an extensive playing career, and he has navigated the post-rugby transition extremely well.
“He is now fully focused on the future, on supporting his family but also on giving back to the game.
“Paul has huge mana within the French rugby community, and we welcome his experience which he brings into this role and the knowledge he can share with Pacific players based in France.”
In the immediate future, Paul will connect with players he is responsible for in France and ensure they are aware of the services, assistance and guidance PRP can provide for them, while also reaching out to Pacific unions and player associations, to work together to ensure all players currently in France, are looked after the best way possible.
“Longer-term, I will help develop resources, organise events, and the means of communicating and interacting with players, to have a real positive impact on these players’ lives.”
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