Moments that made them: Shane Williams


Moments that made them: Shane Williams

Shane Williams enjoyed a thrilling journey in a Wales shirt and there were no shortage of twists and turns during his British and Irish Lions career either.

The wing wizard donned his country’s jersey no fewer than 87 times between 2000 and 2011, terrorising  Six Nations defences with his pace and trickery while helping Wales to memorable Grand Slam triumphs in 2005 and 2008.

Williams also toured with the Lions on two occasions, in 2005 and 2009, and made a surprise one-off comeback in 2013.

The menacing wide man scored 60 tries throughout his international career, most of which could rightly find their way into a ‘greatest tries’ showreel, and so picking out a handful of defining moments was no easy task.

A new star for the new millennium

Williams’ first involvement with Wales proved to be something of a false dawn, as then head coach Graham Henry largely overlooked the youngster.

But Williams’ brief initial exposure to Test rugby, around the time of his 23rd birthday, fuelled his determination to defy critics who said he was too slim and scrawny for the international stage.

After a cameo on debut against France, where Williams pretended not to hear when he was summoned from the bench, he scored three tries across the Championship, the first against Italy before a match-winning double against Scotland.

From third choice to world-class

Williams tried beefing up in an attempt to breakthrough under Henry’s replacement Steve Hansen but was only selected for the 2003 Rugby World Cup as Wales’ third-choice scrum-half.

Williams made it onto the bench for one of the first three Pool games before he was unleashed against New Zealand, dancing his way between would-be tacklers to give Wales a 37-33 lead in a game where they had trailed 28-10.

Wales lost that contest 53-37 in Sydney, but Williams’ individual performance was one to savour, and all the more impressive considering his preparation for the All Blacks consisted of a week in quarantine as he recovered from a sickness bug.

Becoming a Lion

The 2005 Lions Tour to New Zealand could not have started much better for Williams, who made his debut in front of a home crowd in the one-off warm-up match against Argentina in Cardiff.

He went on to equal the single-game Lions record by scoring five tries in a Tour match against Manawatu, but the trip ended in a 3-0 series defeat at the hands of the All Blacks.

“I was massively honoured and I really wanted to play in that game,” recalled Williams, reflecting on his Lions debut at Principality Stadium.

Williams v Argentina

“The Manawatu game was a great one for me, we were coming towards the Tests and to get in the team you have to perform well in the midweek matches and everyone knew that.

“It was great and I felt I was playing good enough rugby to make the Test team. I missed out on the first Test which was frustrating, but I probably didn’t play enough rugby.

“Then I did enough to be selected in the second Test and I’m immensely proud of that as I could have given up the ghost and carried on the Tour as a very expensive water boy.”

At his brilliant best

There have been few better individual performances across a single year than Williams’ glittering 2008.

With 14 tries in 11 Tests, the Amman Valley man swooped the Six Nations Player of the Championship award as Wales won their first crown under Warren Gatland before he was named World Rugby Player of the Year.

In a year littered with memorable scores, perhaps the most treasured was his effort against France which put Wales on the brink of a clean sweep and saw Williams move clear of Gareth Thomas as Wales’ all-time try scorer.

Another personal milestone

Williams scored his first two Test tries for the Lions against South Africa in the third and final match of the 2009 Tour, as Ian McGeechan’s side fell to a 2-1 series defeat.

He was awarded the Player of the Match award for his efforts in Johannesburg but regrets that he could not make an impact earlier on the Tour.

“I probably had my best year for Wales in 2008, I had a successful year with the Ospreys, with Wales and individually. It was tough as I had to try and live up to that standard and probably didn’t,” he said.

Shane Williams

“I was just trying to get to the form I’d got to in 2008 and it took a while, probably until the second Test for me to play what I would consider good rugby.

“I swore when I was watching the first Test from the stand that I needed to get back into the squad and try to make a difference.

“Ahead of the third Test, I had to quickly forget about the Test results, it was about me personally playing well again and being the starting winger and doing whatever I could to restore pride in a jersey I was proud of wearing.”

Comeback King

One final Lions hurrah for Williams came in 2013, when he was asked to provide injury cover ahead of the first Test against Australia.

The Lions lost 14-12 to the Brumbies, with Williams withdrawn on 67 minutes, but he still recalls fondly the opportunity to pull on the famous red shirt one last time.

“I was in Japan and had been preparing to go to the Lions Tour as a pundit,” recalled Williams.

“I had a phone call at the airport from Rob Howley who asked if I would like to play against the Brumbies.

Shane Williams 2013 Lions Tour

“He didn’t have to ask me twice, put it that way. It was like going back to school and seeing people for the first time again.

“Just to get on the field, put that shirt on again and have a catch-up with some of the lads was something I thought had passed me by two years before, so it was brilliant.

“I nearly scored against the Brumbies and as I was going for the left corner I thought, I would have scored this two years ago. That was one indication that maybe I wasn’t as quick as I was.

“I tend to throw in that I was part of a winning Lions Tour in after dinner speeches, but I’m not really sure it counts.”

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