Shane Williams has produced the odd swallow dive over his career, but it has always seemed like a dive of joy. It doesn’t come across as gloating or ‘look how good I am’ – although he has plenty of right to the latter claim – it just comes across as the sheer love of scoring tries and playing rugby.
On Saturday Williams will play for Wales for the 87th and final time. We would all love him to have a sizzler and score a couple of tries, although the gods have a habit of being complete killjoys on these occasions. But in the long run, and there have been plenty of those, it doesn’t really matter. Williams will be remembered for much, much more than one final match.
I will long remember the devastation he wreaked on the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup. Coach Steve Hansen picked what he thought was his second team for the final pool game. Ha, said Williams, it’s showtime. The little man guided Wales from an 18 point deficit to a 34-38 lead. “Give the ball to Williams,” screamed the commentator, “He’s brilliant.”
Hansen may not have quite understood what was going on. He had suspected that Williams, at a shade over 11 stone, was too small for international rugby. Devastated by the judgement, Williams had tried to put on weight and kept pulling his hamstring as a result of being too bulky. Sizeism is one of the most tedious traits of modern coaching – Conrad Smith was also dismissed as too small early on – but Williams was about to stand up for the little guys.
He travelled all round the world leaving big men sitting on their copious arses whilst their heads slowly stopped spinning. Williams could step off either foot, but the jag off the left peg was particularly sublime. Even TGR Davies approved.
There was that try against Fiji in the 2007 World Cup when Williams stopped the whole defence with a show of the ball, as if he were contemplating a chip ahead or perhaps an inside pass, and then slammed on the afterburners. The Pacific Islanders are quick but they couldn’t touch Williams.
Williams has that low centre of gravity, a bit like Diego Maradona, that makes him so hard to knock off his stride. He has a change of pace and can handle the occasional Campese hitch kick. He also, one of his most underrated skills perhaps, has fantastic feet and controlled the dribble ahead perhaps better than anyone.
Shaun Edwards said this week: “Undoubtedly he is an all-time great of the game. Shane is like a symbol of hope to anybody who wants to play rugby. That no matter what shape or size you are, if you are good enough and determined enough you can make it.
“Obviously players are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. If you compare the size of players now to those 30 or 40 years ago there is no comparison. But you get a guy who is small in stature but big in ability and big in heart and determination and you can succeed.”
Jonah Lomu was a wonderful player, but he was also one of the worst things to happen to rugby. Every coach wanted a Jonah and men like Shane Williams were literally looked down on. It was a betrayal of the beautiful game.
So give a cheer this weekend for all that Williams has done for Wales and rugby. Back in the summer he said that Wales were good enough to win the World Cup and most people laughed at him. Not many are laughing now. All I can hear is a standing ovation for a man who moved mountains.