The little winger who left a big impression
June 5, 2012
Shane Williams touches down for a try in his last appearance for Wales against Australia in December © Getty Images
When Shane Williams scored from the last move of the Wales v Australia game at the Millennium Stadium before Christmas he achieved more than the rare feat of sending a Cardiff crowd home happy from a Welsh defeat. It also added to the considerable list of records set by the Welsh wing, who played his final match on the same ground last Saturday.
It was his 28th international try in 48 matches for Wales at the Millennium, more than any other player from one of the historic rugby nations has scored on a single ground. It took him clear of Rory Underwood's 27 tries in 41 matches at Twickenham and leaves him tied with Daisuke Ohata's 28 for Japan in 17 matches at the Chichibunomiya Stadium in Tokyo.
Such records inevitably favour players from the Six Nations, and in particular those from the British and Irish quartet, who play almost all of their home games on a single ground. Brian O'Driscoll would undoubtedly be closing in on this mark but for the Irish peregrinations forced by the conversion of Lansdowne Road into the Aviva Stadium, so that his 25 home tries for Ireland are divided between three grounds. Also well up this particular list is Tony Stanger, who scored 21 of his 24 tries for Scotland in 29 appearances at Murrayfield. Stanger offers a particularly pronounced case of the general, and quite natural, tendency that the majority of prolific try-scorers get more of their touchdowns at home than away.
Shane's 60 international scores were, though, split exactly half and half - 30 at home for Wales, including two against Romania at Wrexham in 2003 - and 30 away or on neutral ground, 28 for Wales and the other two for the Lions against the Springboks in 2009.
That makes him the highest scorer of all time away from his own turf. While his 23 tries in 32 matches on away grounds place him just behind David Campese's 24 in 39, when you add his seven in nine on neutral territory he overtakes Campo, with a total of 30 tries to the great Australian's 27. Next up on this list are Doug Howlett, an example of a player who was more prolific away, with 27 tries and Bryan Habana with 25.
Unsurprisingly Shane dominates Welsh records. His 30 tries at home, 21 away and seven on neutral territory all lead his compatriots - Gareth Thomas with 17 home, 17 away and six neutral, tied with Ieuan Evans, stands second in each category. He is also Wales's highest World Cup scorer with 10 tries in 11 matches. Evans and Thomas, with seven each, again share second place.
But his impact goes beyond his own national listings. Scotland have been playing international rugby for 141 years. In all of that time nobody has crossed their line more frequently than Shane, who scored against them nine times, taking the record previously held for most of a century by Willie Llewellyn with seven.
He holds the corresponding marks for tries against Italy - also nine, one ahead of Dennis Hickie - and Japan, one up on Gareth Thomas.
Some critics might put that trio together with comparatively moderate records against England (2 in 11 matches), Ireland (2 in 9), France (2 in 10) and New Zealand (1 in 7) and begin to make a case for him as something of a flat-track bully.
That case, though, begins to evaporate when his record against the rest of the southern hemisphere is continued. The lists of leading scorers against Australia and South Africa are inevitably dominated by other members of the Tri-nations, who get a lot more opportunities against them. But no European has ever scored more than his six tries in eight matches against Australia or five in nine against South Africa. All of those tries against the Boks were scored, in five matches, on South African soil, a record which ranks him equal (and in three fewer matches) with Joe Rokocoko and Christian Cullen at the top of the all-time lists. He is also the leading European try-scorer, jointly with Serge Blanco and Emile Ntamack, against Argentina with six.
Some players undoubtedly benefit from being in strong, high-scoring teams. Nobody would question the greatness of Howlett, but it certainly did him no harm that his 62 international matches were played in teams with a winning record of 83.06 per cent who averaged 4.85 tries per match. Shane's teams won 47.80 per cent of their matches. Among the all-time top 10 only Ohata (47.41 per cent) played in less successful teams, and of the European top 10 only Evans (43.67 per cent).
Shane's teams scored only 2.68 tries per match, and were heavily dependent upon him. His 60 tries were 24.60 per cent of the 244 scored by his teams across his 91 match career. Among the top 10 only Ohata (26.53 per cent) and Underwood (28.57 per cent) - a record which means this writer has to think again about his evaluation of England's flier as a fine finisher but essentially the beneficiary of a team that won most (64.83 per cent) of the time - have made a greater contribution.
A not dissimilar pattern emerges when one considers the leading Five/Six Nations try-scorers. None has played in less successful teams than Shane (59.75 per cent), while only three head his 24.45 per cent contribution to Welsh try-scoring in 41 matches. Underwood (25 per cent), Llewellyn (27.59 per cent) and Ian Smith of Scotland - all-time record holder until overtaken by O'Driscoll last year - whose 24 tries in 32 matches were no less than 31.58 per cent of his country's scores during his career.
None of this is intended to argue that Shane is the greatest ever winger, but the other names who form the basis for comparison in this article - a litany of greatness - should leave it in little doubt that he has been very, very good indeed.
A personal view is that he might just squeeze into an all-time Wales XV, but in part because the competition for a place on the left - Teddy Morgan and Dewi Bebb come most quickly to mind - is merely exceptional while that for the right is stupefying, Gerald Davies contesting the spot with Willie Llewellyn, Ken Jones and Ieuan Evans. That, though, is a debate for another time and another article.
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