Ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, we dig through the archives to highlight a hero from a previous tournament. Next up, it’s Shane Williams.
Shane Mark Williams, MBE was born on February 26, 1977 and represented Wales 87 times, scoring an outstanding 58 tries. Williams was also selected on two British & Irish Lions tours, to New Zealand and South Africa in 2005 and 2009 respectively, playing a total of four Tests. However, his Lions representation did not end there as he was a late call-up in 2013 and would run out one last time against the Brumbies.
Born in Swansea, Williams played for his home team the Ospreys 141 times from 2003 to 2012, having represented Neath 129 times five years prior to that. He quickly became a fan favourite, not just at the region but also with rugby union followers around the world, due to his entertaining style and ability to stand out despite being a diminutive figure amongst what were becoming giants of the professional game.
He went on to become Wales’ leading try scorer and amongst his Six Nations Grand Slam wins, he also claimed the coveted World Rugby Player of the Year gong in 2008. That came in the middle of an amazing career that included three Rugby World Cups, in 2003, 2007 and finally 2011.
His Rugby World Cup moment
We head back to November 2, 2003 when Williams was selected by then Wales head coach Steve Hansen on the left wing, his favoured position. Williams was originally picked for the tournament as a third-choice scrum-half, but he showed his qualities out wide in this final pool fixture.
His performance against the All Blacks was simply outstanding as he caused the in-form outfit numerous problems with his unique talents that made him such a difficult opponent to contain. Despite a 53-37 loss it was a momentous showing from the Welsh side as they wowed the crowd.
Hansen was criticised for resting several first-team players for this game, with their quarter-final spot already sewn up after three wins. However, it gave players such as Williams the stage to show their talents and following the game his Test career went from strength to strength.
On to the match and Williams’ incredible step and break on halfway helped set up centre Sonny Parker for a try that hauled Wales back into the contest at 28-17 before another crossing, this time from back-row Colin Charvis, made it just a 28-24 deficit at the interval in Sydney.
Williams would pick up a deserved try in the second half to move Wales 34-28 in front, but New Zealand regrouped and eventually prevailed.
The confidence this performance would give the Welsh, however, was visible in their quarter-final against eventual World Cup winners, England. The retained Williams starred again, this time in Brisbane, as his superb kick return saw him link with scrum-half Gareth Cooper before he rejoined the attack to set up fly-half Stephen Jones for a try that has gone into the archives as one of the great World Cup crossings.
Unfortunately the match would also end in defeat as Wales bowed out of the Rugby World Cup, but for Williams the 2003 tournament was the springboard for a fine career that entertained the global rugby masses, proving once and for all that the game is for all shapes and sizes.
This series is open to all our readers so if you have a World Cup hero – for whatever reason or from whichever country – then get on your computer and pay tribute to them in the above format. We will strive to publish as many as possible before and during the tournament. Email your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org