Major clubs: Neath, Ospreys, Mitsubishi Dynaboars
Test span: 2000-11
Wales caps: 87 (84 starts)
Lions caps: 4 (3 starts)
Test points: 300 (60T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Shane Williams
Shane Williams was watching as a replacement scrum-half when injuries left his Neath team short of a wing during a 1998 cup tie against Wrexham. Would Shane be happy to fill in? Of course he would, and so was born the career of one of the all-time great finishers, Williams going on to score 60 Test tries – second only to David Campese among the major nations.
Williams’s origins as a scrawny working-class kid from the Amman Valley, so shy that on his Wales debut he pretended not to hear when he was summoned from the bench, make his rise all the more romantic. At 5ft 7in tall and 11st soaking wet, he was forced to defy critics who felt he would be tossed about like a rag doll on the international stage.
Largely ignored under Graham Henry, Williams tried bulking up but sustained a series of torn hamstrings and muscle strains as he reached an unnatural size and weight.
So he changed tack and in 2003, having gone to the World Cup as a third-choice No 9, he was unleashed on the wing against the All Blacks. Williams had spent the week quarantined with a sick bug but he was on fire that night in Sydney, his quick feet and magical sidestep tormenting the Kiwis. Williams was rarely overlooked again.
In 2008, after scoring 14 tries in 11 Tests and taunting Bryan Habana by shouting ‘Mismatch!” at his opposite number, he was named IRB Player of the Year.
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He played in two Lions series, bagging two tries against the Springboks in 2009, but more significant than his try scoring was the thrilling skills and brio he brought to the game. He credits much of his balance and explosiveness on the field to his passion for gymnastics as a youngster.
Typically, he went out with a splash by scoring in the last play of the game in his final Test, against Australia in 2011.