Shane Williams set for Wales finale against Wallabies

Saturday, 3 December 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

CARDIFF (AFP): In an era where even the backs are bulky, Test rugby will say goodbye to one man who has proved rugby can still be a game for all sizes when Shane Williams plays his final match for Wales this weekend.

The Ospreys back, for whom the phrase ‘diminutive wing’ might have been coined, takes his leave of the international stage in Wales’s clash against Australia at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Although he will continue at club level, the 34-year-old Williams, who has scored a Welsh record 57 tries in 86 Tests, played in three World Cups and toured twice with the British and Irish Lions, believes now is the right time to call time on his Test career.

And he is looking forward to finishing against Australia, who held on to beat Wales 21-18 in their World Cup third place playoff in Auckland in October despite a Williams try.

However, Williams said: “It is not Shane Williams versus Australia, it’s Wales versus Australia, and I don’t want the fact it is my final game to cloud that.

“We want to show we have moved on from the World Cup, and beating Australia would be nice.”

It is more than 11 years since Williams made his Test debut and Wales coach Warren Gatland said: “He will leave a huge hole, he is our record try-scorer.

“It gives us a chance to give him a send-off as a team and for the Welsh public to see him play at the Millennium Stadium for the last time.

“It will be fantastic for him to lead the team out and get the standing ovation he deserves, and for the boys to do his last game for Wales justice by playing well.”

Also hoping Williams bows out in style is Gatland’s fellow New Zealander Graham Henry, who as Wales coach gave the 5ft 7in flyer, renowned for both his blistering pace and devastating sidestep, his Test debut in 2000. “He’s probably been the number one player in Wales for some time,” Henry, who in October guided New Zealand to World Cup glory, told the BBC.

“There have been other guys knocking on the door but he has been consistently world-class. “And they’ve looked at him to do something special and often he does that. He’s scored some outstanding tries.”

Yet for all his success, it is sometimes forgotten how Williams’s Test career almost came to an abrupt halt.

A run of 10 tries in his first 10 Tests marked a fairytale start to life in international rugby but a succession of hamstring injuries in 2002 and 2003 led Williams, who sometimes marked his scores with extravagant dives over the line, to consider quitting professional rugby.

And his Test prospects then faded as he fell out of favour with Henry’s Wales successor and fellow Kiwi Steve Hansen.

However, Hansen picked Williams for a clash against New Zealand at the 2003 World Cup and although Wales lost, Williams shone in defeat as he did in the ensuing quarter-final loss to England.

But Williams was to prove a hero in victory, as well as defeat, during Wales’s Six Nations Grand Slam in 2005, scoring a decisive try against England and a breathtaking five-pointer against Italy.

Global recognition came when he was named the International Rugby Board’s player of the year in 2008, having scored two stunning tries against the Springboks during a tour of South Africa where he was opposed by a brilliant wing in Bryan Habana.

Henry, however, said that year’s award should have gone to All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

“That was a little bit hard to take but since the olden days, where I used to let everything affect me, it’s kind of water off a ducks back these days and I’ve no qualms at all,” Williams said.

It is often said when a star player in any sport retires that “we will not see his like again”.

But with Wales featuring teenage ‘giant’ George North on their other wing and backs around the world getting bigger and bigger, in Williams’s case it might just be true.