No-one was more surprised than Shane Williams when he received the call asking whether he fancied one last hurrah for The British & Irish Lions on the 2013 Tour.
Two years after announcing his retirement from international rugby and playing his club rugby in Japan at the time, the invite left the then 36-year-old almost speechless.
But four years after last pulling on the famous red jersey against South Africa, the chance to write one final chapter in his illustrious career on the big stage proved irresistible for Lion #728.
Before the legendary Wales winger knew it, he was on the plane to Australia as injury cover for Warren Gatland’s tourists, lining up against ACT Brumbies in the final warm-up match.
“It came from nowhere,” said Williams, also a Lions tourist in 2005 and 2009.
“I was in Japan playing rugby, I had retired from international rugby for two years and professional for a year, and I was going to Australia for some corporate work and commentary.
“I was in Tokyo when I received the call from Rob Howley who basically said, ‘Shane, will you do me a favour and play against Brumbies at the weekend?’
“He didn’t have to ask me twice, let’s put it that way. I remember it was really late in the evening in my hotel in Tokyo and I woke up in the morning thinking, ‘Did I really receive that phone call?’
“I thought it must have been a dream so I called Rob back. I was absolutely buzzing and I was on the plane with so many different emotions going on.
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“I was nervous, I didn’t know if that was because I was thinking, ‘Am I still good enough?’ or because I was playing for The British & Irish Lions or because I had to tell a couple of corporate gigs that I had to play a game and wouldn’t be available.
“It was such a weird experience but I just couldn’t wait. The flight went in seconds and then I met up with Sean Holley in Hong Kong and he was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening, make sure you don’t play too well’ he told me.
“I remember turning up to training, spending about ten minutes running through the calls and the plays, doing a bit of press and next thing you know I have a British & Irish Lions jersey back on.”
Williams first toured with the Lions in 2005, equalling a single-game Lions record by scoring five tries in a Tour match versus Manawatu and playing in one Test against the All Blacks.
He was called up again in the prime of his career in 2009 and scored two tries in a man-of-the match performance in the memorable final Test victory over the Springboks.
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But while his third touring experience with the Lions came out of the blue, Williams felt like he had never been away, despite being introduced late to a group of mostly new faces.
“It was a whirlwind, it was a real whirlwind but I absolutely loved it. Getting involved again, getting that jersey on and getting stuck in was a huge honour for me,” he continued.
“It was surreal but it was no different at all to previous Tours. A lot of these lads who were in the squad I hadn’t even played against, the likes of Owen Farrell and players like that.
“I didn’t know much about them, they didn’t know me, I didn’t know them. As soon as I got back into the environment, the lads made me feel really welcome and it was like I hadn’t been away.
“They had a couple of initiations going on the night I got there so I got involved in that, laughs and jokes and a bit of banter, it was good to see some of the Welsh boys and bump into Brian O’Driscoll and it did feel like I hadn’t been away.
“The most funny thing was I walked into training and some of the boys looked at me as if I had two heads as if to say, ‘What the hell are you doing here? Where have you come from?’
“It’s almost as if it was a secret, no-one was meant to know so that was quite funny. But the lads were great, they got me back in the swing of it really quick and before you knew it that game was over and I was thinking, ‘Ah gutted, why couldn’t it go on for another 40 minutes’.”
His 14th and final Lions appearance, in which he became the oldest back to wear the famous red jersey at 36, saw Williams almost score inside the opening two minutes.
A neat line-out routine, involving a tap-down from Richie Gray at the tail, saw Ben Youngs and Christian Wade combine, before Williams was bundled into touch in the left corner.
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The game ultimately ended in a 14-12 defeat for the Lions, who went on to win the Test series 2-1 against the Wallabies, as Williams got to savour another fairytale swansong.
“That’s always going to be a huge talking point for me for the rest of my life and I stayed out for the rest of the Tour and did a bit of work out there while following the lads. I watched them do the business which was a proud moment for me,” he added.
“I had a couple of swansongs during my career. For Wales I was meant to retire after the World Cup but Warren Gatland wanted me to play at home so I could finish in Cardiff.
“That was great for me and another swansong, I scored in the final seconds of that match. For the Ospreys, I wasn’t meant to play in the PRO12 final because Eli Walker was meant to be playing but he had an injury that week.
“I go on and play that game and score two tries. Then I thought my last Lions Tour was 09 and then I go and play the Brumbies so I had a few swansongs but what a way to go out.
“If I could, I would play for the Lions anytime if I was willing and able to do it. Unfortunately, age does catch up with you but to go out on my own terms was fantastic.”