HEARTBROKEN Doncaster Knights captain Michael Hills says witnessing the tragic death of team-mate Ian Williams together could eventually help the squad deal with the ordeal and leave a fitting legacy for their late colleague.
It is 10 days since 27-year-old prop Williams collapsed and died ahead of a training session at the club’s Castle Park ground.
Tributes have continued pouring in for the popular Oxford University graduate who only joined Clive Griffiths’ squad from neighbours Rotherham Titans last summer.
Doncaster are set to play their first game tomorrow since the devastating incident occurred.
However, in light of the adverse weather, there is a pitch inspection at Cornish Pirates’ ground at 9am this morning to decide whether the Championship game will actually go ahead.
In an interview with The Yorkshire Post, speaking publicly for the first time since the ordeal, flanker Hills admitted: “You never imagine ever having to see or deal with something as tragic as this.
“You just can’t ever prepare for it and obviously our hearts go out to Ian’s parents and family.
“We have to come in every day to train knowing what happened on that pitch and sadly knowing he’s not going to be out there with us any more.
“It makes you think about the little things that you take for granted but it’s important we remember and we will remember Ian, not just for the rest of this season, but the rest of our lives.
“He was at London Welsh before with a lot of my friends there and everyone I’ve spoken to has said exactly the same thing about Ian – one of the nicest guys you could meet, part of the team immediately, a great sense of humour and very intelligent.
“In rugby teams you do get moaners and people like that but Ian was never one of those.
“He had a great work ethic and was just a good guy to have around the team and that’s why, even though he’d only been at the club a short time, he could still leave such a big imprint on everybody that was there.”
Doncaster have retired their No3 jersey for the rest of the season and are planning a tribute for Williams at their next home game, fittingly against one of his former clubs Richmond where his parents are regular spectators, on March 17.
For now, the squad and staff continue to try and deal with the enormity of what has happened while preparing for tomorrow’s game.
Doncaster-born Hills, 32, admits it has been difficult but the believes there is a unity underpinning them all.
“I’ve had two friends take their own lives when they retired from rugby which, again, was a totally different situation in terms of losing friends to the mental side of rugby,” he said.
“But again I believe that has got a lot better in the last five or six years, the support that players are given now.
“Unfortunately my two friends were a little before that time and things weren’t as good.
“But, personally, I’ve never experienced anything as traumatic in terms of being present, helping do CPR and being hands on.
“I did a small amount of CPR on Ian.
“Some players did more than others.
“It was something very new for me and with it happening in training most of the team were there.
“They were part of it and saw the tragic events.
“It was a whole thing that we all experienced together which may be comforting in some ways as everyone was there and it wasn’t something you had to deal with on your own when maybe on a night out with him for example.
“Instead, you’ve got your team-mates and your best mates around you.
“And I think we’ve always been a tight group.
“It’s one of the things Clive (Griffiths) is very good at; getting a group of players together and that showed in what actually happened on that day.
“The way everyone at the club reacted and has done since has been quite incredible really in such a horrible situation.
“To react as we have done and stuck together like we have... if Ian could have been around to see that I’m sure it’d have put a smile on his face. I know that.”
Tighthead Williams made six appearances for Doncaster, the last of which was off the bench in their previous game, a 48-38 home win over Hartpury RFC.
Hills concedes he is not sure if he knows if it will be good to press on and play again tomorrow or not.
“It’s a difficult one really,” he said.
“I’m not there yet. I’ve not run out yet with that in my mind.
“But I think you have to get on with your life. That’s just the way it is.
“I’m pretty certain Ian would have wanted that.
“I know his parents and close family have spoken to us about that.
“Griff and the staff are all on the same page.
“In some ways we got back out there on the pitch – not the Wednesday as we had that day off – but on the Thursday.
“We did some remembrance things as a team at the club in the morning.
“We were trying to put a smile on our faces remembering Ian and I think that really helped the players.
“In that respect, getting out and getting a game Sunday would be brilliant but with this snow who knows.
“If it’s not this weekend I’m sure it will get rearranged for next weekend and we’ll get back out then.”
Cornish will make a pitch decision this morning ahead of Doncaster’s planned departure time.
Hills added: “The focus now is finishing the season the best possible way we can for Ian, ourselves and everybody connected with the club.
“That’s the only way you can move on.
“As a rugby player, too, the amount of support the rugby community and rugby world – worldwide – has given to Doncaster, Ian’s parents and anyone who’s known Ian has been fantastic.
“It’s quite humbling really to know that the rugby world can come together like that.”