The Welsh winger reflects on his retirement, life after rugby, what he misses about the game and how he’s filling the void.
Welsh Rugby Legend Shane Williams Gives His Thoughts On Everest Challenge
One of the world’s most prolific international try-scorers, Shane Williams represented Wales almost 90 times and also clocked up four appearances for the British and Irish Lions in a distinguished career. He overcame critics of his size (he is only 5ft7) with an electric turn of pace and a defence-defying side step, that allowed him to score the decisive try against England in Wales’ 2005 Six Nations Grand Slam triumph, amongst many other stunning solo efforts.
Retiring from the international game in 2011, following the Rugby World Cup and autumn internationals, Williams played his last game against Australia at the Principality Stadium. He speaks fondly of this final cap. “My final game, against Australia, was huge,” he remembers. “We lost the game, but I remember thinking that the crowd was still pushing us along and still cheering for us. I scored a try at the end and for 20 minutes after the game, considering we had just lost, the crowd kept clapping and cheering. I think half the people in the stadium forgot we lost!”
Despite continuing his club rugby career in Japan, Williams has struggled to fill the void of performing at the highest level and the adrenaline buzz that this brings. “I miss the crack and the camaraderie,” he says. “I miss the togetherness that you need to work as a team and be successful. So the Six Nations is a difficult time for me, especially when you’re working doing punditry or commentary because you’d much rather be on the field, helping the lads out, than talking about it on the sideline. It’s not the easiest of times for an ex-international but when you keep challenging yourself and trying to better yourself as a person it helps to get over that loss.”
Such is the drive of this phenomenal athlete that the competitive edge remains, if only in constantly striving to go further and do more, pushing his body to the limits of its capabilities in a similar way that professional rugby used to. Triathlons and ultra-triathlons (including a famous Ironman race) have followed and Williams now has his sights on a Guinness World Record.
In April, Williams will join former England hooker Lee Mears, former Sevens star Ollie Phillips and Tamara Taylor, a legend of the Women’s game, in attempting to play the highest altitude games of rugby. Taking place over 24 days (13 April to 6 May 2019), the LMAX Exchange Everest Rugby Challenge will see the foursome, and other members of the rugby community, battle acclimatisation and heights of 6,500 metres to play the highest game of full contact rugby and the highest game of mixed rugby in history – all in support of Wooden Spoon.
As if trying to justify this arguably insane feat, Williams says, “I miss the challenge [of international rugby] and the only way I’ve been able to get over that slightly is by doing other challenges, like triathlons and Ironmen. Challenging yourself to bigger and better things like this is the closest thing you get [to rugby] and it doesn’t come any bigger than Everest. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do something like this; it will be up there as one of the most challenging things I’ve done physically, but raising a lot of money will gives us the extra drive to do it.”
Playing rugby at 6,500m will, naturally, not be the same experience as running out at the notoriously caldron-like Principality Stadium, the home of Welsh rugby, famed for its hostile environment for visiting teams. But Williams is confident the excitement of the occasion will still provide a buzz. “I used to love running out to a full stadium,” he recalls, “but when I’m at 6,500m with a ball in hand I don’t think I’ll care who’s watching as I’ll be too busy struggling to breathe! And we will still get a buzz whether we’re playing rugby in front of ten people or ten million people, because that’s the kind of people we are. We’ll have fun doing it too, while raising a lot of money for Wooden Spoon, which is a fantastic charity.”
Preparing for such an endeavour is a feat in itself but Williams down plays the experience of various trips undertaken at altitude as working in his favour. “I’ve played [at altitude] in South Africa and as much as you do preparation in the altitude tents, you spend the first 20 minutes of the game wondering how you’re going to make it to the end. And that won’t be anything like 6,500m. I also trekked to Machu Picchu [situated at just under 2,500m] 18 months ago. On the first day I was walking up a hill and I felt awful. A 60-year-old lady, who had had cancer, was walking behind me and I had step aside for her to go past me. We hadn’t even gone far. But if we get up Everest and we can all run around like blue-arsed flies, then it’s too easy, surely?! That’s why it’ll be a Guinness World Record and that’s why we’re doing it for Wooden Spoon, so bring it on!”
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