Williams set for fond farewell
December 1, 2011
Shane Williams is certain to receive a terrific send-off from his adoring Welsh fans © Getty Images
Wales' record try-scorer Shane Williams will bring the curtain down on his stellar international career in Saturday's clash with Australia at the Millennium Stadium.
After resisting the temptation to walk away from Test rugby after the conclusion of his country's thrilling World Cup campaign New Zealand, the 34-year-old Ospreys winger will get the send-off he deserves at the scene of some of his most memorable moments. Indeed, it was in Cardiff that Williams broke Gareth Thomas' try-scoring record with his touchdown in the Grand Slam-clinching win over France in 2008.
The game, though, is not just about Williams. For Wales, if offers the opportunity to gain a modicum of revenge for their defeat by the Wallabies in the World Cup's Bronze Final less than two months ago, as well as providing head coach Warren Gatland with a chance to experiment ahead of the Six Nations.
The Wallabies are doing some experimentation of their own, of course, with first-choice fly-half Quade Cooper currently sidelined with injury and James O'Connor having been charged with filling the void at fly-half, which he did to good effect in last weekend's 60-11 rout of the Barbarians.
However, head coach Robbie Deans has named a strong starting line-up for the game in the Welsh capital so it is clear that the Wallabies are intent on finishing the year on a high.
Wales - Player to Watch: It has to be Williams. All eyes will be on the former IRB World Player of the Year and the hope will be that he marks his final game in Test rugby with a try.
Wales - Team News: Flanker Sam Warburton returns as captain, while also starts for centre Scott Williams, half-backs Rhys Priestland and Lloyd Williams, plus prop Scott Andrews and lock Ian Evans. Injuries have sidelined centre Jonathan Davies, props Adam Jones and Paul James and lock Alun Wyn-Jones, while James Hook and Mike Phillips are unavailable because of commitments with their respective French clubs, Perpignan and Bayonne.
Australia - Player to Watch: O'Connor impressed against the Baa-Baas last weekend but the versatile 21-year-old back was given the proverbial armchair ride. He will not have as much time to do as he pleases this weekend so it will be interesting to see how he fares this time around.
Australia - Team News: The Wallabies have made two changes to the side which lined out at Twickenham. James Horwill returns to the second-row in place of Nathan Sharpe, reclaiming the captain's armband from David Pocock in the process, while Ben McCalman takes over at No.8 from David Dennis after being forced to withdraw from the starting line-up at the last minute last weekend. Rob Horne, however, was a late withdrawal from the side with Anthony Fainga'a coming into the centre berth. Nick Phipps takes Fainga'a's place on the bench.
Key Battle: For the neutrals, the most disappointing aspect of Warburton's already infamous sending off against France in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup was that it robbed us of a mouth-watering head-to-head with Australia's Pocock in the third-place play-off. This weekend's battle will tell us much about who will succeed Richie McCaw as the game's premier openside flanker.
Trivia: Wales have not beaten the Wallabies since November 2008
Stats: Shane Williams has scored 57 tries in 86 Tests for Wales
"It does not often happen in professional sport that a player gets the opportunity to call time on his international career, then play one last match like this one in front of his home fans and the people he has given so much joy and entertainment to. Saturday is a great opportunity for the fans to show Shane what he has meant to them and we all hope to send him off on the right note."
"He did great and it was great to see him play with a lot of confidence. Coming in off the wing was something that he wanted to do to get his hands on the ball more and to see him running around - making breaks left, right and centre - it was good."
Prediction: Wales are missing a couple of key men and that's why we suspect the Wallabies might spoil Williams' big day. Australia win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape