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Williams wants Wales to get back to winning ways

A man once rated the world’s best player today takes the pitch against a star of the game winning his 100th cap for Ireland and who has often been bestowed with the same accolade.

Wales’ Shane Williams and Ireland skipper Brian O’Driscoll line up for teams that have won the last two Grand Slams, the Welsh in 2008 and the Irish last year.

The Slam has eluded both sides this time around, but Ireland are still chasing Triple Crown success after defeat in France shattered hopes of five straight Six Nations wins for a second successive year.

Wales, after defeats against England and France, have little more than pride to play for.

But Williams — the IRB Player of the Year in 2008 — is adamant Wales are a far better team than recent results suggest.

And the wing wizard — up against his Ospreys team-mate Tommy Bowe today — can only reflect on what might have been, with title aspirations scuppered by those two defeats.

On each occasion, Wales fought back from alarming deficits — 20-3 against England and 20-0 to France — before almost pulling off remarkable victories.

Those games fell either side of a dramatic win against Scotland, and Williams admits Wales could have found themselves in Dublin boasting a three from three record, chasing another Six Nations crown and Grand Slam.

“I honestly believe we could have won all of our first three games in the Six Nations this year,” said Williams, whose mesmeric solo try against France chalked up 50 for him in Wales colours.

“And yet here we are with just a solitary win. You can't help the ‘what ifs' running through your head, because we are such a better team than our results suggest.

“This is all so horribly frustrating. We keep saying the same thing over and over again and poor (Wales coach) Warren Gatland must find it very difficult to watch us from the stands.

“For all the disappointment, however, there is a part of me that is proud of our performances because we've played some exciting rugby and contributed to some thrilling games so far.

“We really aren't far from being a world-class side, I promise you. It really is a matter of inches.

“There is tremendous character in this side, we never give up, but we need to turn that into more points and wins.”

Wales won at Croke Park two years ago, overcoming yellow cards for scrum-half Mike Phillips and flanker Martyn Williams, who leads his country today in the absence of injured skipper Ryan Jones.

But any repeat performance will require a Herculean effort against a quality Irish side.

Wales, though, are determined not to leave any questions unanswered as they pursue a win that could leave them with a chance of claiming this season's Six Nations runners-up spot.

Williams added: “It was the same old story for us against France (two weeks ago).

“We started poorly, finished strongly, and were left with plenty of regrets.

“Before the game we repeatedly spoke about making a good start and putting the French under pressure, but before we knew it we were 20 points down. We are just not learning from our mistakes.

“We threw the game away with two interception tries in the first-half and gave ourselves an impossible job.

“Maybe we played too much rugby at times. We just kept hitting the self-destruct button and spoiling it for ourselves.”

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