Williams finishes with final flourish

By Bruce PopeBBC Sport Wales
Wales wing Shane Williams cartwheels over the try line against Australia
Wales wing Shane Williams cartwheels over the try line against Australia

Welsh fans came to praise him, Australia came to stop him, but everyone wanted to see Shane Williams make his 87th and final appearance in Wales colours.

Typically of his country's record Test try scorer there was one last touchdown to take Williams' tally to 58, although he left it until the final play of the game.

Australia already had the contest won as the clock ticked past 80 minutes, spoiling the full fairytale ending for the 34-year-old who was desperate to sign off with a win at the Millennium Stadium.

But still Wales continued to hammer at the Wallabies and after the forwards had made the hard yards, replacement scrum-half Tavis Knoyle released his backline.

Williams had come off his left wing into midfield and spotted Australian centre Berrick Barnes coming quickly out of defence, a pace or two ahead of his team-mates.

As he had on so many other occasions, Williams sensed his opponent's minor error and shifted himself a step right out of the direct line of the charging Waratah.

Williams' namesake Scott, who had started at 13 instead of the injured Jon Davies, played his part by putting extra pace on his pass to find the little wing on the outside shoulder.

A shimmy completed the toreador's feint, leaving Barnes sprawling on the Cardiff turf, and Williams was through the gap.

Barnes' midfield partner Anthony Fainga'a made a desperate dive but his fingers brushed past Williams' shoulders as he stamped on the accelerator.

The 69,537-strong crowd were already on their feet and their roar of approval echoed off the rafters as a somersaulting Williams touched down, treating his adoring public for one final time.

If ever there was a moment that encapsulated a man's career that was it, with Williams showing all the vision, athleticism, determination and joy of playing the game that has marked his 11-year Test career.

"There has been no better place to play than at the Millennium Stadium... it's where it started for me and where it has finished," Williams said.

"The support at the end was fantastic. Because of them I was bawling my eyes out."

After the game, Australia coach Robbie Deans said that Williams is a "once-in-a-generation player", while Wales boss Warren Gatland believes the Ospreys wing is a "catalyst" for those around him.

Williams's Wales try record puts him some distance clear of previous holder Gareth Thomas, who scored 40.

Two more tries for the 2009 British and Irish Lions against South Africa brings Williams's full international total up to 60.

That leaves only Australia great David Campese (64 from 101 Tests) and Japan's Daisuke Ohata (69 in 58 Tests, including 29 plundered against the minnows of Korea and Chinese Taipei) ahead of him in the world standings.

That is not bad for the Amman Valley product whose 5ft 7in, 12st 8lb frame is anathema in the professional game where size and power dominate.

Fellow wing great Ieuan Evans, who scored 33 tries for Wales, said the national side will miss Williams' ability to conjure scoring chances.

"Shane is a magician, so many wonderful images throughout his career. His ability to score tries from nothing, his wonderful balance, his sheer will to win belied his size," Evans said.

"That acceleration, that explosiveness was what marked Shane out, with the ability to beat people inside or on the outside - that just puts defenders ill at ease at all times.

"His talent was there for all to see and Shane had the ability to put a smile on three and a quarter million people whenever he pulled on that jersey for Wales."

Gerald Davies, another revered Wales great who like Williams was all about poise and pace, added his praise for his fellow wing's accomplishments.

"Shane was a brilliant, scintillating player, swift, agile, quick-thinking, clever and brave," said Davies.

"He was an unique talent in the modern game and I've always thought that because of his subtlety and side-stepping he was the small man's revenge!

"It's important to have the physical abilities… but it's important also to be in the right place at the right time to support the player with the ball, and to pick the correct angles to run."

Rugby fans will still be able to see Williams bamboozling opponents for the Ospreys for some time to come, but the number 11 shirt in the red of Wales will now be handed to another.

It is a small jersey to get into, but very big boots to fill.