It is always sad to see the retirement of players who have contributed significantly to the game over many years. However, in certain instances you sense the end of an era and that will be the case when Shane Williams plays his 87th and final Test for Wales against Australia at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. While he will continue to perform on the domestic front for the Ospreys, he will be sorely missed on the International stage.
It is worth listing some of Williams’ most notable achievements. In addition to being Wales’ most capped winger, he is their leading try scorer and 3rd on the list of international Test try scorer’s with 57 tries. He was part of the Welsh Grand Slam winning teams of 2006 and 2008 as well as featuring on 2 Lions tours and at 3 Rugby World Cups. Williams was was IRB player of the year in 2008, the only Welsh player to ever win this award. Not that Ospreys have missed out on his efforts, with Williams scoring 54 tries in 130 appearances for his club side.
It is also worth remembering that in scoring his 41st try for Wales in the 2008 Six Nations that Williams’ father Mark won £25,000 on a £50 bet (placed when Williams was 21) that he would one day become Wales’ leading try scorer.
So much achieved for a man so small. At 5’7” and a mere 80 kg’s ,Williams defied all his critics and figuratively at least stood shoulder to shoulder to the greats of the game. While Jonah Lomu at 6’5” and 125kg’s would have tested Williams’ defence, it is hard to imagine Jonah being able to deal with the Welsh winger in full flight. In many ways it is a shame that they never played against each other but such a physical mismatch is probably best left to the imagination!
Wednesday was “Shane Williams day” in the Welsh camp. All the Welsh players arrived at training wearing Shane Williams masks, Warren Gatland did likewise at the start of the press conference, Williams’ family attended training and joined the squad for lunch and Williams got the opportunity to read the team selection to the squad. The team room was festooned with pictures of the great man and a TV played a video of the highlights of his international career. What great tributes to this outstanding player. This is also another indication that the Welsh camp understand how to manage and reward their players. It’s indicative of a respectful, strong and united camp with a sense of fun.
A recent item in this blog on rugby’s core values listed Sam Warburton, Victor Matfield. James Horwill, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter as players who demonstrated an intrinsic understanding and embodiment of these values. The comment evoked a response from The Rugby Site member Vance Broad suggesting that Shane Williams deserved to be included in this list. Williams’ name does indeed sit very comfortably within this group and in a country not short on rugby legends will be very much at home when listed alongside the likes of JPR, JJ, Barry John, Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett and many other great Welsh backs of years gone by.
What sets Williams apart from many great players however is the fact that he is also a great man. A player who is respected by team mates and opponents equally, who speaks with honesty and clarity when facing the media and who sets an example to all in how he conducts himself regardless of the outcome of a game.
There is every chance that with Sam Warburton at the helm and with Williams signing off his international career that Wales will rise to the occasion against Australia on Saturday and show the world that their outstanding Rugby World Cup was no flash in the pan.