My Lions Moment: Shane Williams
It is often said that in times of adversity, we really discover what we’re made of.
For legendary British & Irish Lions and Wales winger Shane Williams, that’s a sentiment that certainly rang true for him during the storied 2009 Tour to South Africa.
As a veteran of three Tours, Williams has no shortage of wonderful memories from his time representing the Lions, including finding out he had been selected for the first time in 2005.
Williams also made his Lions debut against Argentina at Principality Stadium before his first Tour, while he equalled the single-game Lions record by scoring five tries against Manawatu.
But despite his exploits in ’05 and surprise late call-up in 2013, it is the 2009 Tour that remains his clear favourite – even if he experienced his fair share of frustrations in South Africa.
“I’ve been lucky to have played in two full series, in New Zealand and South Africa, and I had the opportunity to go back in 2013 and play a game so I have fond memories of all my Tours,” he said.
“But for me, that Tour in 2009 was my favourite. We had a great bunch of guys, coaching staff and players, it was very relaxed. We trained hard, we trained really hard, but we had a good unity.
“There was a great camaraderie between all the lads from the different nations, the coaches were fun, they trained us hard but didn’t mind a laugh and a giggle as well.
“Everything was serious but there were times when we would also have a bit of a laugh and South Africa is a fantastic place. That for me, was one of the best rugby Tours I’ve ever been on, let alone Lions Tours.
“The support we had was fantastic, I was bumping into people from my own village left, right and centre. Even when we hadn’t won the series, the support was amazing.”
The 2008 World Player of the Year arrived with the heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders but was left out of the first Test after struggling to make an impression in the warm-up matches.
Battling with England’s Ugo Monye and Ireland’s Tommy Bowe, he only made a brief appearance off the bench in the famous second Test as the Springboks sealed a 28-25 success.
But even with the series already lost, Williams refused to give up and was rewarded with a starting spot in the final Test as the Lions claimed a stunning 28-9 victory at Ellis Park.
“I felt that we should have won the series as a team and I was disappointed to miss out on starting in the first game and only play a couple of seconds in the second game,” he said.
“I was feeling quite down to be honest and quite emotional that I hadn’t been able to win the series but to be told I was playing in the final game was huge, I couldn’t wait to go out there.
“I wanted to get involved in the game, try and win the match and I ended up scoring two tries and we won the game. Despite the fact we lost the series, that was a big point for me.
“I thought I’d given something back to the Tour and that was great, the success of the third game and having people like Gerald Davies around me, congratulating me, was special.
“He was my schoolboy hero so that was a huge honour. The Lions for me is the pinnacle of a rugby player’s career, pinnacle of rugby and to be involved in those Tours is fantastic.”
For Williams, the third Test was about more than the Lions simply preventing a whitewash.
“You can’t change the result, you can’t change the Tour and I was just determined to play the third Test so I trained well and proved to Warren [Gatland] that I wanted to be in that third Test,” he said.
“I told him I want to be in this third game, I want to win this Test. There were a lot of emotions but my mindset was, ‘Shane, just play well in this game, win the game, do something special’.”
Williams was well aware he had a point to prove. But if there were people questioning his status, he answered them emphatically in Johannesburg with his brace of tries and the man of the match award.
“There was a feeling of relief when I scored the tries,” he said.
“I just found that when I was on the Tour, I was just trying too hard to please the coaches. I played a lot of rugby trying to get back to my best and it probably didn’t go as well as I’d liked.
“But I was still confident that I was good enough to play in the Tests, so when the first game came and I was not selected I was gutted, I was really disappointed.
“I knew then I had a point to prove. I took the pressure off myself and I started to train well and play well so by the time the third Test had come, I was in the best shape I was in that Tour.
“To be involved in that final game was incredible and I was just so determined to win the match, so determined to get involved and get an early touch. Lucky enough I scored two tries and came away with a man of the match performance.
“I’d like to think it was just reward for sticking to my guns, working hard and keeping my head down – proving to Warren, Geech and the rest of the coaches that I deserved to be there.
“That’s why it was a big moment for me. I had a lot to prove to myself I think, and I’d like to think that I did that with the performance in that third Test.”