Sun, Nov 25, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Aussie backpacker lines up for German national rugby team

AFP , BERLIN

An Australian backpacker, over in Europe to watch his heroes at last month's Rugby World Cup, got more than he bargained for when a trial for the German national team led to him being thrown into a crucial European showdown.

University student Steve Williams, 25, who plays for Sydney club Mosman in the city's suburban competition, stayed in Europe after watching Australia's unsuccessful World Cup bid and contacted the German Rugby Union.

Germany's director of rugby Peter Ianusevici invited the tight-head prop, who qualifies through his German mother, for a trial with the national team on Thursday.

The Romanian coach was so impressed with what he saw, he named Williams in the starting line-up for the key European Nations Cup Division 2B clash against Moldova in Heidelberg.

The show-down may well determine which of the two sides wins promotion next year to the first tier of the European Nations Cup, which includes Romania and Georgia -- both World Cup participants this year.

The junior New South Wales representative, from Alstonville, said he was stunned to be winning a German cap -- especially as he cannot speak the language -- but has no regrets about closing the door on his chance to play for Australia.

Under International Rugby Board regulations a player can only play for one country.

"To get an international cap is a pretty big thing and it's a massive honor to be selected," Williams said.

"I have to be realistic about my chances of playing for Australia. The highest standard I could hope to play back home would be Australian Rugby Championship level, which is one down from the Super 14," he said

"I am a bit stunned, to be honest, I turned up just expecting a trial and a bit of a look around and the next thing I knew, I was in the team," he said. "But I am looking forward to making my debut and I know my mum is over the moon I am playing for her homeland."

Ianusevici, who coached Romania to the 1991 World Cup finals, said after he checked out Williams' eligibility, he had no problems picking him for yesterday's game.

"He turned up and was impressive in the trial, he is very mobile for a prop and we are hoping he will do well," he said.

The European and Business Studies student at Sydney's Macquarie University will jet home next month to return to his studies in January.

He plans to play for Mosman during the Australian winter and return to Germany next September to play for his adopted country and learn the language while continuing his studies.

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