A legend departs the international scene

This saturday’s game between Wales and Australia should make for decent viewing: expect to see two attacking sides with the shackles off playing under little enough pressure.  It’s also significant for one other reason: it’s the last time we’ll see Shane Williams in a test match.  The impish genius with the matchless step will depart the scene with a phenomenal 58 tries in 87 tests, including two in four caps over two tours for the Lions, and two grand slams with Wales.

It’s a haul that’s hard to argue with, but the strange thing is, that some do, particularly those with selective memories who can only recall the Kiwis battering through him on the ill-fated Lions tour in 2005 (when everyone around him was covering themselves in glory, right?) and overlook his frequent brilliance against Southern Hemisphere teams.  Indeed, WoC remembers looking on slack-jawed during a pub discussion where one 10-man rugby enthusiast insisted on his preference for Ian Dowling over Shane Williams, given the choice, on the basis of his sturdy defence.  Yowsa!

Fifty-eight test tries.  Fifty-eight!  To put that in context, Vincent Clerc has 31 and Sitiveni Sivivatu has 29.  Even the great Brian O’Driscoll is 13 behind on 45, and in almost 40 tests more than Williams, albeit from centre.  In fact, only David Campese and, erm, Daisuke Ohata (the veteran Japanese wing) have scored more international tries in the history of the game. And with all due respect to Ohata… ahhh, we’ll let him have his moment.

That alone would mark Williams out as one of the best finishers in the game, but Williams has always offered much more than an eye for the tryline.  Lethal in tight spaces or broken field, his ability to step off either foot is his greatest attacking weapon, but it’s followed closely by his exceptional hands and distribution.  It’s often forgotten that when Williams originally signed for Neath it was as a scrum-half.  His skill-set and willingness to take on responsibility have frequently seen him temporarily switch to scrummie or even first receiver down the years, usually when Mike Phillips is buried at the bottom of the ruck.

Remember him, not only as one of the most exciting players to watch, but one of the greatest wings of the modern game; a genius if you will.  Even in the modern era of bish and bosh rugby, there’ll always be room for a guy of his stature, but only if he’s unbelievably good.

Here’s a few classics that will live in the memory bank for a while.

1. Shaney Williams can’t do it against big physical teams?  Tell that to South Africa. He frequently outplayed Habana throughout his career.

2. Never one to hang around the wing, here he steps into midfield, runs a killer line, makes a brilliant offload, and turns up on the wing a couple of phases later to finish a great team try:


3. Or just enjoy one of the many montage tributes to his greatness on YouTube (Warning: may contain soft tackling):