Rugby said goodbye to one of its most exciting players, when Welsh winger, Shane Williams, retired last Saturday. In a fitting end to his career, he scored in the dying moments, against Australia. Unfortunately, the score came to late to affect the result.
Shane Williams was a breath of fresh air in rugby. While most player’s and team’s were fixated on defence and playing a low-risk game, Williams threw caution to the wind, and mesmerised defending players and crowds, with his attacking play.
He was like a throwback to rugby’s more carefree, amateur era, where players were more willing to take risks. He was like a 2000’s version of David Campese, the Australian dynamo. Fittingly, Williams finished his career as the 3rd highest try-scorer in the game (Campese’s 2nd), having scored 58 tries for Wales, and 2 for the British and Irish Lions.
He was also small for a modern wing, at only 5 ft, 7 inches tall (Irish wing Tommy Bowe is 6 ft 3. They actually played together for Ospreys), and started his career at scrum-half (in school he was told that he was too small to even play rugby, but the coaches soon changed their minds!). He was quickly moved to wing, where he could be most threatening as a strike runner, and quickly became known for his ability to find spaces in oppositions defence.
He won his first cap for Wales in the ‘99/’00 season, and shined in the 2003 World Cup, especially against New Zealand and England. He was picked for the 2005 Lions tour (to New Zealand), and managed to score 5 tries in one match! This display got him a promotion to the test side, but he was unable to match his earlier form.
He came back with a vengeance for the 2009 tour (to South Africa), and was picked in the final test, where he scored 2 tries, wining the man-of-the-match accolade.
He was a pivotal figure in both of Wales’s Grand Slams during the 2000’s (’05 and ’08). In 2005 he scored tries against Italy, Scotland and England. In 2008 he managed braces against Italy and Scotland, and 1 each, against France and Ireland. That score against France put him top on the list of Wale’s all-time try scorers. His great 2008 form won him the IRB International Player of the Year Award.
Ironically, in last Saturday’s match against Australia, he had hardly seen any of the ball. He managed to put in 2 try-saving tackles, but nothing really in defence. Wales started off well in that game, ending the first-half, 6-3.
Unfortunately for Wales, Leigh Halfpenny was sin-binned in the 2nd half, and Australia capitalised on their one-man advantage, scoring 3 tries in the 10 mins he was off the field. Wales got back on the scoring board in the late part of the match, with the result now 24-11.
Wales were unable to score in the last 10 minutes of the match, before Williams showed one last piece of magic to run in for his 60th try. It was a dream ending to a magnificent career. He’ll be missed.
Australia were on a short tour of Europe, having played the Barbarians the week before (usually the Barbarians game is the last of a tour). The game turned into a rout in the 2nd half, with the final score, a record 60-11.
The Barbarians usually put on a much better display, but they were without access to a number of top-flight players, who were on club duty. Peter Stringer was picked, which is a great boost for him, as he seems out of favour, with both Munster, and Ireland. His main contribution in the game came at the end of the 1st-half.
Australia had just scored and James O’Conner was taking too long with the conversion, and Stringer ran up from the try-line and took the ball! He was taken off soon into the 2nd half.
O’Conner usually plays on the wing for Australia, but was moved to out-half, as Quade Cooper is injured. He played well in both games and looks to be a real find.
Speaking of Australia, the British and Irish Lions are touring there in 2013, and have decided on their schedule of matches. It’s quite a challenging fixture list.
They start off with a match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, on June 1st (this game is designed to increase rugby’s profile in the Orient. They then move on to Australia, where they play their first game, against Western Force, on the 5th June (that’s 2 games, in 2 different countries, in the space of 4 days!).
They have 10 matches in Australia, in all, with 3 tests, and 6 against provincial sides. 5 of the teams they’ll be playing compete in the Super 15 tournament, which is the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent of the Heineken Cup. Bear in mind that the Heineken Cup and Rabo12, usually finish around the last few weeks in May! That’s very short time for any players lucky enough to be picked for the Lions.