Williams, who had to fill the physically small but reputationally massive shoes of the injured Ronald Brown in the final, made a major step up in the gold medal match as the South Africans throttled Fiji to such an extent, the men from the South Pacific’s first foray into SA territory was midway through the second half.
The diminutive but fleet-footed Williams, who missed several World Series events due to injury, grabbed his opportunities in the English midlands, and when he was thrust into the spotlight in the final, he stood up and delivered.
One of his first touches was a quick-tap penalty in which he sucked in four defenders, opening up space on the right where Selvyn Davids’ kick-pass found Muller du Plessis to score the first try in the corner, which Williams converted from wide out.
The 24-year-old Williams then gave the scoring pass that put JC Pretorius away in the same corner, and his own try was scored on the other side of the field after a good passage of play – which started with Pretorius forcing his third turnover in the first half – despite the SA sweeper taking a knock moments earlier.
And early in the second half, Williams made a superb break from the base of a midfield scrum which led to Du Plessis’ second try, which he also converted from wide to push the Blitzboks into an almost unassailable 24-0 lead.
“This was very big for me, and I was quite emotional before the game, as this was my first Commonwealth Games, and I feel very privileged to be part of this team that won the gold medal,” said Williams, at 1.74m and 78kg literally dwared by Fijian giants such as Josua Vakurinabili (1.90m and 117kg), Sevuloni Mocenacagi (1.93m and 108kg) and Elia Canakaivata (1.85m and 104kg).
“I don’t really have the words to say what this means to me, but considering the build-up we’ve had to this tournament and the hard work everyone put in, all I can say is that I’m very proud – not only of the guys in England, but also of those back home that have missed out.
“We fought very hard for this and I’m so glad we could pull it off. We’re taking things one tournament at a time, and I believe this is a good foundation for Los Angeles and the World Cup in Cape Town.
“Personally, after missing a number of tournaments due to injury, I’m just privileged to have been here, especially after the hard work I put in to make it. I’m grateful and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Ndhlovu also had a tough time with injuries and when he took a massive knock against Tonga on the opening day, leaving the field on a stretcher, there were fears that his season may be over.
Luckily for the 25-year-old from Standerton, the injury wasn’t as serious as it was originally thought to be, and he was back in action the next day in the final pool match against Scotland, and later on the same day, Ndhlovu scored a try in the quarter-final win over Canada.
Fast forward 24 hours, and he was back in action in the gold medal match, scoring the final try in the last movement of the game – securing his passage to the try-line with a massive hand-off – that ultimately nailed one of the greatest Blitzboks victories in the history of the team.
“It’s been an up and down journey, considering how things started for me at the tournament, but I’m just glad that I got the opportunity to play again,” said Ndhlovu after the final.
“It could have gone south in that Tonga game and I feel blessed to be in a position where I am now, to have actually played a part for the team and to win it with my team-mates.”
Ndhlovu said the Commonwealth Games was part of their journey to finish a tough 2022 season on a high, with the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Los Angeles coming up, followed by the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town.
“Every tournament is part of our preparation for the end of the season, which is the World Cup in Cape Town, and our next job is Los Angeles, so we need to take care of business there and keep on preparing for the World Cup,” he said.