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Williams fears Ireland will condemn Welsh to a lower seeding in World Cup draw

By David Kelly

The great London entrepreneur Irvine Sellar died this week, a man who didn't coin a famous phrase but who definitely pocketed it for key gain.

"Take an English breakfast. The hen is involved but the pig is committed."

Shane Williams has always been committed.

Participation in 'The Toughest Trade' for AIB with GAA ace Michael Murphy's Glenswilly was daunting but something to which he obligingly committed.

Too small to make it in pro rugby, so he was told once and the ad men keep saying repeatedly, stepping out with an unfamiliar white ball upon a pitch blanketed in snow was, comparatively, just another challenge.

He played up front, trying to make his speed over-ride any skill deficiencies; the hits were just as hard, even in training.

"Bang," he recalled of one training session. "He puts his shoulder in my chin and I was gone. I looked at the coach as if to say, 'Is that illegal?' And he was like, 'No, that's fair'. I was seeing stars."

His beloved Wales - for whom he played for more than a decade, their record try-scorer (58 in 87 Tests, fourth on the all-time list), as well as going on three Lions tours - are seeing stars themselves at the moment.

Defeat to Ireland on Friday week would condemn the Dragons to their third this campaign, a second in succession on their Cardiff turf, as well as consign them to a third seeding for the upcoming World Cup draw.

Williams was expecting something different after their encouraging opening to the campaign, before the late defeat to England accelerated their decline.

"If you had spoken to me after the England game I would have had a smile on my face," said Williams. "I was quite optimistic and happy with the way Wales were going. Okay, they lost, but they seemed to have turned the corner from that second half against Italy and then brought that momentum into the England game.

"They could easily have won that game. Physically, it was the best defensive performance in two years. Ball in hand, they were playing with width and depth and intent.

"And I was optimistic after the first half at the weekend against Scotland. But I have no idea what happened in the second half. Scotland frustrated Wales, they attacked them at the breakdown.

"Wales sent in one-in runners, looked quite lethargic at times and had no direction with ball in hand. When they did break the gain-line, they lost the ball in contact and got very frustrated. My worry is that is how Ireland play.

"They will frustrate, they keep the ball very well and will keep it away from Wales. The likes of CJ Stander and Seán O'Brien or Devin Toner or whoever will be a real pain in the backside and make it difficult for Wales in the breakdown.

"So it's a massive game for Wales. There is a lot at stake, it is a huge game for them and they are under a lot of pressure."

Two years ago, Wales defended with their lives - an epic 45 phase onslaught which was repelled is a mini-phenomenon virally - and made a then record 250 tackles, with lock Luke Charteris making 30 of them.

Just as in Welllington at the World Cup in 2011, Wales specifically targeted Ireland's back-row and, even if Peter O'Mahony is introduced to thwart the Welsh lineout jumpers, that will be their aim in nine days' time too.

However, the Welsh also suffer from balance issues.

"Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are both openside flankers. That was gambled with a couple of seasons back and it worked. It's a difficult one," said Williams. "It works sometimes but there are times when they are trying to do the same job.

"Look at Ireland, who have two sixes rather than an out-and-out seven, and it is effective because it is all about the breakdown and ball-carrying, getting over that gain-line.

"CJ Stander's stats are through the roof and he and Seán O'Brien are taking the benefit of that while Jamie Heaslip is more like a Tipuric. Wales have two great players there and we have a lot of sevens, maybe not strength in depth at six."

Williams turned 40 this week, still does the odd triathlon and he may also have a cup final date in the Principality Stadium with his village football club in West Wales, Ammanford Athletic, later this year.

He plays on the left there too, as he did in the oval ball game.

"For me, the lads were just saying, 'Off the mark, just blast it, put your head down for 20, 30 metres, hopefully you're going to gas this guy and then you can hopefully get the ball'," he said.

"But in the game, even though my speed has diminished and my conditioning, in a rugby sense, has gone, I managed to lose the defender a few times and get involved with the game.

"And then I started to enjoy it. I suddenly realised, 'Okay, I'll do that each time, they want me to get the ball.'"

After that, his ageless commitment took care of everything else.

Belfast Telegraph


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