North leads Williams tributes
December 4, 2011
Wales' Shane Williams takes a lap of honour with his children following his final international appearance © Getty Images
Retiring Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams has been hailed as a "one-off" by the man hoping to fill his free-scoring boots - George North.
North was just seven-years-old when Williams arrived on the international stage and watched in awe first as a fan and then a team-mate as his fellow speedster racked up a record 58 tries for Wales in an 87-Test career that came to an end with defeat against Australia in Cardiff on Saturday. An emotional day ended with the 34-year-old Williams claiming a crowd-pleasing score that emphasised the sizeable void Wales will have to fill as of next year's Six Nations.
"If I can have half the career Shane has had, then I will retire a happy man," said the 19-year-old North who has scored nine tries in 16 Test appearances. "It was a great way for him to finish, but I am devastated to have lost him as a player and friend in the squad. I wish he would play for a bit longer just to give me a bit more of his wisdom.
"He is Welsh rugby - there is no bigger compliment I can give him. He is Welsh rugby through and through. He has never said never. He works so hard on and off the pitch to be the best he can be and then turn up on the weekend and perform.
"For 11-odd years, he has done that. Even on the day he retired he was one of the better players out there. He was still running lines and making awesome offloads, and then to score a try like that, he took it so well."
The baton will now inevitably be handed from Williams to North, given the Scarlets teenager's prodigious game-breaking quality and try-scoring ability. But he added: "Shane is a one-off. He has got the x-factor. I am a different shape to him physically, but I can take stuff from his game and put it into my own.
"He has been the best. Yes, I can to try do things, but it won't look half as good. Shane is Shane. He's a special bloke, and I am just happy to have had the honour to play alongside him. Hopefully, they [Welsh Rugby Union] will offer him a job of speed and agility master. He's like a book - you have just to crack it open and then read chapter after chapter of awesome stuff."
Williams deflected all the acclaim and adoration and rued another defeat against Tri-Nations opponents. It was Wales' 15th loss from 16 starts to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa since coach Warren Gatland took charge. Perhaps even more alarmingly, Wales' record against the southern hemisphere heavyweights during 16 years of professionalism shows three wins, one draw and 42 defeats.
"There are mixed emotions," Williams said. "The whole point of the game was to win. It was not about me, it was about getting a Welsh performance and beating Australia. It didn't happen, so on that side it is a bit disappointing, but I cannot commend the guys' effort enough. It was a tough game. We played a very good Australia side that had the majority of possession.
"It couldn't have finished any better for me to score a try. It is nice to score tries, but it is even better when you are winning."
With the clock ticking and Australia closing out an ultimately comfortable win after touchdowns from Will Genia, Lachie Turner and Berrick Barnes, Williams admitted he thought his chance of a fairytale try had been lost. "I thought my opportunity had gone," he added. "I thought we had an overlap on the right where we chucked it up in midfield, and we were given a penalty and I thought that was it, my chance had gone.
"But luckily, I was on the end of a very good pass that took me outside Barnes and inside [Digby] Ioane and I managed to get to the line again. I couldn't have scripted the last minute of that game any better, but it would have been nice to have gone out in style and won the game."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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