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All Blacks to face new Welsh sensation

Getty Images     21 Nov 2008     Getty Images

Williams could crown a memorable 12 months by being named International Rugby Board player of the year in London on Sunday night.

But 19-year-old Halfpenny's startling emergence into the Test match arena left Williams just relieved he was selected for Saturday's Millennium Stadium showdown with New Zealand.

Head coach Warren Gatland made it abundantly clear Cardiff Blues speedster Halfpenny tops the Wales wing charts - and Williams has no issues with the boss' verdict.

"Leigh deserves his place before anyone," said Williams, who has amassed a Welsh international record of 43 tries in 59 Tests.

"He has played the best in the first two games [against South Africa and Canada], and he certainly should have been the first name on the sheet.

"I have got no qualms about that at all - I am just glad I am playing this weekend. I just want to go out there and play like I know I can play.

"If we win on the weekend, I play well and Leigh scores a hat-trick, then great. First and foremost, I want Wales to win."

Halfpenny had played barely a handful of games for the Blues before Gatland threw him in against world champions South Africa a fortnight ago.

But he displayed an ice-cool temperament, impressing with his all-round performance, before scoring two sparkling tries against Canada last Friday.

Williams added: "If he continues playing as he is, I am sure he is going to be there for a long time, which is great.

"It is nice to see he has brought his confidence to the Welsh set-up from the way he has been playing with the Blues.

"His first cap was opposite Bryan Habana. People are always talking about Bryan being one of the best players in the world, and Leigh had a great game.

"I felt he had the better of Bryan on the day, then he deserved his two tries against Canada. I am really happy for him.

"He has got an air of confidence. Nothing seems to bother him, and that is how you've got to be at this level.

"He will have his ups and downs, like every player, but if he continues to play with the confidence he's got at the moment, then it is certainly going to help him.

"I was older than Leigh when I first started playing international rugby, and I remember how intimidating and difficult it was at the start.

"You question whether you should be there and whether you are the best player in that position to be picked, but I've just told him to go out and continue playing like he does for the Blues.

"He is enjoying it and playing with a smile on his face. It's fantastic."

Williams will face fellow 43-try Test performer Joe Rokocoko on Saturday in his fifth appearance against the All Blacks.

It is just over five years since Williams played a try-scoring role in Wales' World Cup epic against New Zealand - the All Blacks won 53-37 and Rokocoko touched down twice.

That thrilling encounter in Sydney confirmed Williams' arrival on the international scene - but he is the first to admit how times have changed.

He added: "You do feel that you are under a bit more pressure these days.

"You seem to get man-marked constantly, but I think that has bettered me as a player.

"I tend to work a little bit harder, looking for gaps. It doesn't always work, but that's the way it goes.

"I seemed to be man-marked at times by three players against South Africa two weeks ago. It is difficult, but you have got to adapt as a player.

"When I played against New Zealand in 2003, people probably didn't know who I was and it worked to my advantage.

"On the day, it went well for myself, but we still came off as the team that lost.

"If we can play like we did in patches in 2003 and continue that for 80 minutes, then we won't have any problems, but rugby has moved on leaps and bounds since then.

"Defences are far tougher, so it is a big ask on the weekend, probably the toughest game of the autumn series. But we've got to go into the game believing we can win, and we certainly do."

An overdue Wales victory would represent the first part of a possible stunning double, with Williams nominated for IRB honours alongside Wales captain Ryan Jones, All Blacks first five-eighths Dan Carter, Italy skipper Sergio Parisse and Scotland's Mike Blair.

"It is great just to be nominated," he said.

"If I win it, then fantastic, but I am completely humbled that I have been nominated in the top five anyway."