Williams anxious over World Cup slot
August 19, 2011
Williams impressed for the Barbarians against Wales at the beginning of the summer © Getty Images
Martyn Williams will make his final Wales appearance at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday - and then hope he has done enough to feature in a fourth World Cup.
Williams readily accepts the clock is ticking on a 15-year Test career highlighted by two Six Nations Grand Slams, three British and Irish Lions tours and the captaincy of his country, which he regains against Argentina this weekend.
The Cardiff Blues flanker will be 36 the day before Wales arrive in New Zealand for their World Cup campaign. Whether or not he boards the flight on August 31 is coach Warren Gatland's call. For his part, Williams accepts the chips are down.
Sam Warburton, Wales' World Cup captain-in-waiting, has nailed down the number seven shirt, while young Ospreys openside Justin Tipuric is viewed by many as a possible selection bolter. The combined effect is that Williams, who wins his 99th cap tomorrow, has got it all to do as Gatland assesses those final few squad vacancies.
"Look, when I was left out the Six Nations squad last season I thought that was me done and dusted," said Williams. "But then I was pulled into the World Cup training squad of 45 and I've had a good summer's training and been given the opportunity again.
"Everybody gets frustrated watching and so, yes, I am glad to get a run. For a few of us who haven't had a chance, there is the incentive that, with things still up in the air, a good performance will help.
"But when you get to the stage of your career I am at, then even though the competitive edge is still there, you have to be realistic. I have trained really hard, I am in the best shape I've ever been, and that makes you want to play even more.
"There is quite a few of us who haven't played all summer and who are going to have to go straight in on Saturday and hit their straps immediately. It's not going to be easy, but that's just how it is. You have to deal with it."
Williams has effectively been an automatic selection throughout most of his Wales career, but competition for back-row places is now so intense that the only certainty is uncertainty.
Gatland will announce the World Cup squad on Monday, meaning an anxious weekend for some players, including Williams. "It won't be nice at all," he added. "The squad has become really tight. Everyone has helped and encouraged each other, and so to have to drop out will be tough to say the least.
"But they can only take 30 to New Zealand, and that is professional sport. All I would say is that the people who aren't in the 30 need to keep their heads up. Unfortunately, there can always be injuries, so they may still be called on."
Williams, whose previous flirtation with international retirement in 2007 lasted just one game, is poised to draw the curtains on his Test career for good this time. If he does not make Gatland's cut, then that is likely to be it. Should he clinch selection, then the World Cup provides a fitting swansong ahead of him playing one final season with the Blues.
"I think this is the strongest Wales squad in terms of depth I've ever been involved with," he said. "We've got a great mix of brilliant youngsters and experience, and I really feel we are in a good place. It's just extremely competitive in terms of selection now, particularly in the back row.
"Warren can only pick five or six there, and nine or 10 are going for those spots. It's as difficult as I have known it. Sam (Warburton) has been outstanding since he has taken the jersey, so for me it has been about being patient and biding my time.
"I haven't played for Wales since last November, so with this being my last game at the Millennium Stadium, it is exciting. But Sam, last week (against England) was one of the best performances from a British number seven that I have ever seen. I have known since he was an academy player how special he is.
"People speak about his physicality, but it's the top few inches with him as well. He is such a grounded bloke, a real class act, on and off the field. And we have another real special kid coming through in Justin Tipuric as well, so it will be nice for me to sit in my armchair and watch them!"
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler
It's time for those running Welsh rugby to stop trying to prevent its players heading to France and to start planning a future without them, writes Martin Williamson