An Email Conversation With: Rugby union player Shane Williams

Gearing up for Wales' World Cup tilt; Recalling the thrills and spills of 2003; Life as a little star in a big man's game
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The Independent Online

The Rugby World Cup starts this week, with Wales playing on Sunday. How are the nerves? No nerves, just excitement. I had good times at the last one and it is grand that I've got the chance to experience it again.

You returned recently against France after a three-month lay-off for an elbow operation. Were you pleased with your performance? It was a game I knew I had to play to get some match fitness. I got my hands on the ball a few times, but we were playing a very good French defence – probably the best I've ever seen. I know I'm capable of more, as, of course, are Wales [they lost 34-7].

Can France win the big one? I've been very impressed for a while, but what surprised me was the mix they have. They've got some massive forwards, but don't play forward rugby all the time. They've got backs who are equally big and as quick. So they can come at you many ways and that's very difficult to defend against. So I think they'll be first- or second-favourites, especially being at home. They've taken Ireland's tag as the northern hemisphere's best shout.

You were one of the stars of 2003. Do you feel a debt of gratitude? Definitely. Prior to that I wasn't getting chosen a lot for Wales, if at all. That tournament saved my career, I suppose. I tried really hard before it to be involved with the Welsh team, but I must confess I thought it would never come. But I kept plugging away, got a chance against New Zealand, played my damnedest and have never looked back. I grew up as a player.

How frustrating was it missing the first three games? It was difficult, just carrying the training gear and not being involved in the main sessions. A few articles said the coach [Steve Hansen] didn't speak to me at all and that I had something to prove. That was not the case. I was spoken to by coaches and guaranteed I would get my chance to play.

The All Black match was called "the game of the tournament" and, despite losing, you were man of the match. Have you since watched the video? Several times – that and the England game [a 28-17 quarter-final defeat]. It's funny, but I thought the New Zealand match would be the one that would be a little too much for me. I think we played with our hearts rather than anything else. It was some of the best rugby I've ever been involved in and we carried it on the quarter-final. Watching the tapes, I know we should have beaten England.

What was the reaction like when you returned home? Amazing. You would have thought we had won the thing. It was the way we played that got everybody going. Personally, the reception for weeks afterwards was incredible. That told me that I couldn't let my standards drop. I wanted that feeling to continue.

Wales will play their first and last group games in Nantes, but the two in between in Cardiff. How can this be called "France 2007"? I can see why people might raise their eyebrows. But I'm certainly not going to complain. We're going to need all the advantage we can get against Australia and it will be a massive boost to us being at home. We'd far rather play them in the Millennium Stadium than Marseilles, I can tell you.

What is Wales' goal? We should not be satisfied with a quarter-final spot. We want to finish top of the group by beating Australia and from then on it's knockout and, as the cliché goes, anything can happen.

As one of the smaller players, are you representing the little man? No. I've had that for more than a decade and I've never taken any notice of it or of who is saying it. I can't get any taller, that's for sure, but I have put on weight and gotten stronger. When I first played for Neath I remember some of the crowd getting confused and shouting out that I was the ballboy. I do feel small when I'm being tackled by some of these big fellas, but you just get used to it. And it is nice to prove the doubters wrong sometimes.

Has modern rugby become too much about the bump and brawn? Are the arts of the sidestep and old-fashioned wing play being lost? Don't think so; hope not. Yeah, players are getting stronger and bigger, but unfortunately some of these big lads can sidestep as well now. Saying that, a lot of emphasis is on defence. Essentially, that is now what wins games. But there are still a few boys that have the quickstep and love to take opponents on. They're the players people come to see.

Are there too many mismatches? Is it in anyone's interest for New Zealand to beat Portugal by 100-points plus? Not in Portuguese interests, maybe, but then, it's going to be a massive game for them and a great experience. Their players will go home and say, "I've played against Dan Carter", or "Look, here's where Joe Rokocoko trampled all over me". And fans love to watch tries. The ideal is that in future every team will have a shout. That's a long way off, but if you look at Argentina and Italy, not so long ago nobody gave them a hope in hell. Now, certainly in Argentina's case, they are dark horses.

Can you speak any French? Not much. For some reason in school I chose German instead. Why would a kid in the Amman Valley think German would be any use? Still can't work that one out.

What is your nickname in the squad? The favourite at the moment is "The River". Anybody who watches hold-em poker knows "The River" is the last card turned over and it's the card the lucky players win with. I'm a hopeless player, but I keep winning. Just another way of calling me a jammy little bugger, I guess.


* Born 26 February 1977.

* Club Ospreys.

* Club career Started career as a scrum-half at Amman United; moved to wing with Neath. Joined Ospreys in 2003 regionalisation of Welsh rugby.

* Wales career

* Caps 46.

* Tries 29.

* Debut v Italy (2000).

* Honours Part of Grand Slam-winning Wales side in 2005 Six Nations. Selected by British and Irish Lions for 2005 New Zealand tour; equalled single-game Lions record by scoring five tries against Manawatu. Played in the second Test, a 48-18 defeat at Wellington.