Williams eyes perfect sendoff

2011-12-02 07:31
Shane Williams (AFP)

Cardiff - Wales will look to give retiring wing Shane Williams the perfect send-off by beating a southern hemisphere power for the first time in three years in Saturday's Test against Australia in Cardiff.

In what is a repeat of the Rugby World Cup third-place playoff that Australia won 21-18, Williams will make his 87th and final appearance in a Wales jersey aiming to add to his haul of 59 international tries - which puts him third on the all-time list.

The 34-year-old wing insists the match is more about an improving Wales side proving it belongs on the top table of world rugby rather than any personal celebration, but there's little chance of that.

"He will leave a huge hole, he is our record try-scorer," Wales coach Warren Gatland said. "It's a great opportunity for someone to determine his own destiny and say, 'This is my last Test.'

"It will be fantastic for him to lead the team out and get the standing ovation he deserves and for the boys to do his last game for Wales justice by playing well."

Williams had intended to retire from international rugby at the end of the World Cup but he was persuaded to stay on for one last Test, giving Wales fans one last glimpse of a player who has been a permanent fixture on the team's left wing for the past decade.

Small in stature, Williams has stood out in the increasingly physical environs of world rugby with his jinking runs and top-level finishing. Especially from close range, the 2008 International Player of the Year is virtually unstoppable.

"It will be a great day for me if I go out with a bang, celebrating a victory," said Williams, who predicts his "overwhelming" last match will bring him to tears.

"I am more excited than upset that it is going to be my last game for Wales. I am determined to end it with a win and what matters above everything is that we carry on as we performed in the World Cup. The future for Wales is exciting."

While a young, exuberant Wales team is already looking ahead to the Six Nations starting in February, Australia brings the curtain down on an indifferent 2011 aiming to build on its comprehensive 60-11 win over the Barbarians last weekend.

Having won the Tri-Nations for the first time since 2001, the Wallabies went into the World Cup brimming with confidence but failed to deliver, losing to Ireland in the group stage before being outclassed by New Zealand in the semifinals.

After winning just once in four visits to Cardiff from 2005 to 2008, Australia will bid for a third straight victory at Millennium Stadium.

Aside from Williams' last match, the other interesting subplot will be the back-row battle between two of the world's best No. 7s  - Wales captain Sam Warburton and Australia's David Pocock.

Warburton's red card in the semifinal defeat to France denied him the chance of coming up against Pocock but the two will go head to head this weekend.

"His strength over the ball and his timing are impeccable," Warburton said of Pocock. "There are a lot of strong, squat people in the jackal position (contesting the ball at the breakdown), but he's the best at it."

Australia coach Robbie Deans preferred to focus on the Williams factor.

"We experienced ourselves how powerful the additional motivation of playing for a mate can be when 'Sharpie' (Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe) had his 100th Test in Auckland recently," Deans said.

"There was no way any of the other players wanted to let him down. I have no doubts that the Welsh lads will be feeling just the same. Emotion plays a powerful role in competitive sport."

Wing James O'Connor will start a Test for Australia at flyhalf for the first time as part of an unchanged backline from the Barbarians game, while captain James Horwill and No 8 Ben McCalman return in the two changes in the pack.

Prop Adam Jones, locks Luke Charteris and Alun-Wyn Jones and center Jonathan Davies all miss out because of injury for Wales, which hasn't beaten a Tri-Nations team since 2008 - when it defeated Australia 21-18 in Cardiff.


Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Toby Faletua, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Gethin Jenkins

Substitutes: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Justin Tipuric, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Alex Cuthbert

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 James Horwill (captain), 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 James Slipper

Substitutes: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Ben Tapuai, 22 Anthony Fainga'a

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (RSA)

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