November 30, 2011
Shane Williams has 59 Test tries - including British & Irish Lions - to his name in 90 appearances © Getty Images
Saturday's final Test clash of the year at the Millennium Stadium has been billed by many as the chance to see some of Wales' World Cup heroes at they take on the Wallabies in a re-match of the bronze final at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
But for Shane Williams, the occasion will hold much more significance as it will be the last time he pulls on the red of Wales. The superstar winger has lit up the international stage for much of his Test career since making his debut in 2000 and at the age of 34 - despite apparently getting faster - he will call an end to his Wales career. In honour of a man of small stature but huge skill, this week's Scrum Sevens looks back at a try-filled 11 years.
A Legend is born - 2000
Having been told he was too small for professional rugby, Williams persisted in his dream to run with the oval ball rather than the round one and it was Lyn Jones who gave him his chance on the wing at Neath after originally seeming set for the scrum-half role. He made his Wales bow as a replacement against France at the start of the 2000 Six Nations and while Les Bleus trounced their rivals 36-3, Williams did enough to be given a chance from the outset against Italy a fortnight later.
And in front of a packed Millennium Stadium, Williams shone. Neil Jenkins contributed 27 points from the tee with Williams rounding off the performance with Wales' fourth try in their 47-16 triumph. Weighing in at just under 11 stone, Williams went on to confound his doubters by running in two tries in their penultimate clash of the tournament against Scotland.
No longer a scrum-half - 2003
After a frustrating two years in the international wilderness between 2001 and 2003, where Williams struggled with hamstring injuries, the winger made his comeback for the national side against Romania in their pre-2003 World Cup warm-up Test. He crossed the line twice and made the cut for the squad for the global gathering - but his inclusion was widely interpreted as filling the third scrum-half slot. He had to wait until their final match of the pool stages against New Zealand for his first start of the tournament - with Mark Jones and Gareth Thomas the previously preferred wingers - but this did not deter him. And despite losing the match 53-37, Williams took the man of the match award with him playing a role in most of Wales' tries and scoring one of his own confirming, in the process, that he was back.
Wales eventually came undone in the 2003 World Cup in the quarter-final stages against England. But they left with their reputation intact as Williams played a key role in Stephen Jones' memorable try as they outscored their red rose counterparts three tries to one.
The Grand Slam - 2005
Under Mike Ruddock the Wales team appeared to be finding their stride and this was emphasised in spectacular fashion during the 2005 Six Nations. Up first was old foes England and while the match is partly remembered for Gavin Henson's complete disregard for Mathew Tait, it was Williams' try which gave Ruddock's men a narrow 11-9 win.
Williams went on to start the remaining four fixtures in the championship - crossing the line against Italy and Scotland in the process - as Wales collected their first Grand Slam in 27 years. And the post-Grand Slam optimism stayed in Wales for the rest of the year as shown during their first win over the Wallabies since 1987 during the November internationals. And it was that man Williams again who the country had to thank with his try contributing to their 24-22 win.
IRB Player of the Year - 2008
Williams' finest year was arguably in 2008 where he swept all before him both on and off the field. Under the guidance of Warren Gatland, Wales took the 2008 Six Nations Grand Slam and Williams achieved a personal feat of his own to go along with the six tries he scored during the championship. The small winger was basically unplayable throughout the campaign and scored the all-important try as Wales edged Ireland 16-12. But it was against France where he finally broke Gareth Thomas' record of 40 tries for the national side in a match which saw Wales wrap up their second Grand Slam in three years.
Against the Springboks in the summer, Williams added to his try tally with two scores in as many matches against the reigning World Cup holders. While Wales failed to come away from the series with a win, Williams scored one of his most famous scores when he left Bryan Habana for dead.
And it was Habana's IRB World Player of the Year crown Williams took in November 2008 as he became the first Welshman to scoop the honour in a shortlist which included fellow national team-mate Ryan Jones.
Lion Man - 2009
Following his six tries on the 2005 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, Williams looked primed to make an assault on the Test squad for their tour of South Africa - especially after his heroics the year before. But in his way for a place in the side were inform wingers Ugo Monye and Tommy Bowe. Williams found himself out of the reckoning for the first Test in Durban and only featured as a second-half substitute in what proved to be the series deciding Test a week later in Pretoria.
But it was in Johannesburg where the Lions finally found their roar as they mauled the Springboks. Williams' try-scoring instinct was explicitly shown through his double and it was this pair of tries which carried him over the 50-Test try mark in the process.
Scoring when it counts - 2010
Despite a relatively poor campaign during the 2010 Six Nations, Williams played a key part in one of the most epic finishes to a match ever seen. Wales had lost to England in their opening clash of the tournament at Twickenham and looked set to be on the wrong end of the result in their second match of the campaign against Scotland. With Scotland leading 21-9 after 41 minutes, Wales mounted a brave comeback, with Williams setting up a try for Lee Byrne and Leigh Halfpenny also crossing, but still found themselves three points down going into the dying embers of the match. Stephen Jones managed to nail a penalty to level the scores and from the kick-off, Scotland opted not to kick the ball out but instead go for the win.
What followed will go down in Welsh history. Williams was the man in the spotlight once again as his try with the last play of the match secured a breath-taking and morale-boosting victory for Warren Gatland's men.
Still cutting it - 2011
Following a relatively poor Six Nations by their high standards, Wales took two of their three warm-up matches prior to the 2011 World Cup. Williams started two of their four pool matches in the tournament itself, crossing the line for a hugely important try in the process. Wales laboured past Samoa in the match following their narrow loss to South Africa with Williams' 67th minute try the deciding score. The match breathed fire into the Dragons' campaign and they then steam rollered their way past Fiji and Namibia to book their place in the quarter-finals.
And Williams was once again the toast of the country with his second minute try against Ireland the catalyst for their eventual 22-10 triumph. After their heart-breaking loss to France in the semi-final, the fire had somewhat left Wales' campaign in their bronze final against the Wallabies but with one final hurrah in the pipeline against Australia on Saturday, do not bet against Williams raising the Millennium Stadium to their feet for one last time.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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