Size isn’t Everything Posted over 4 years ago

Sidestepping has been an important part of my game, not least because there is little point in a player my size trying to go through opponents.

I never saw Phil Bennett play in the flesh – he retired when I was toddling around – but as a boy I had videos of Wales in the 1960s and 1970s and he stood out.

Phil was an outside-half who was about the same size as me and I remember watching a match against Scotland in 1977 when he finished off a counter-attack by jinking away from two defenders on his way to the posts. Before he touched the ball down, he looked back to see two faces looking at him in disbelief.

It was that moment that made me take a rugby ball and go down to the local field. I was Phil Bennett, sidestepping and jinking, and if I did not end up at outside-half, I never stopped working on my footwork: I would always remain behind at the end of training sessions to work on my agility.

Gerald Davies was another player of the 1970s who had dazzling footwork. A defender would think he had him only to find himself grabbing air as Gerald stepped away from him without appearing to change pace.

In the 1980s, there was Ieuan Evans. His try against Scotland in 1988 was a classic, sidestepping three times to avoid a clutch of tacklers and weave his way to the line for a memorable score.

I like the look of Scotland’s Stuart Hogg. He made an impression against Wales when he came on as a substitute in Cardiff a few weeks ago and he carried that on against France. He evaded Thierry Dusautoir with contemptuous ease, something which is not easily done, and I look forward to watching his progress.

Other modern players I admire for their stepping include the Australian duo, Quade Cooper and James O’Connor, two young men who thrive on attacking rugby.

Cooper has one of the best sidesteps I have ever seen. I really enjoy watching the Super 15, and it is a tournament I would have loved to have played in, a showcase for talent.

When I was first capped by Wales, much was made of my size, or lack of it. The danger for players who are not big and physical is that they are encouraged to bulk up and in the process lose the asset that got them selected in the first place, pace.

It was only when I stopped trying to pretend to be something that I was not that I got my international career back on track. You can spend too much time in the gym. What was important for me was to remain agile and quick.

That did not mean you stopped working on your strength, merely that everything you did was designed to enhance what you were good at. Rugby has become a game of bigger and bigger players – you only have to look at the Wales back division.

But it also includes Leigh Halfpenny, a player who is relatively small and relies on his wits. Any side needs a blend in attack, players who can run through opponents and those who can go round defenders. It must never become a game where the bigger you are, the better you fit in.

I have enjoyed my career because I have been able to be myself. I will cease to be a professional at the end of the season, but I cannot see myself giving up playing for a long time yet. I will drop down the divisions because what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon?

I still have a few more steps left in me.

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Shane Williams played 87 caps for Wales and 4 for the Lions. He is Wales’ most capped winger and with 58 tries to his name is his country’s leading try scorer; and third on the list of international try scorers. Shane was first selected for Wales in 2000 by Graham Henry though suffered from injury and doubts over his size in his early years in the national side. He recovered from both and was part of the Wales Grand Slam winning sides of 2005 and 2008, and was named IRB Player of the Year in 2008. The diminutive winger became the darling of the Cardiff crowd as he sidestepped his way around the best defences in the world. Shane retired from international rugby in 2011 and will finish his playing career with the Ospreys at the end of the 2012 season.

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