No masking regard Wales have for retiring Williams

Team room converted into shrine to twinkle-toed winger ahead of his final international on Saturday

There were 22 Shane Williamses in the Welsh team room yesterday, which must be of huge concern to the Australian backs, but perhaps not to their forwards who might finally be confident of winning a few scrums. But before the Wallabies wobble too much with nerves/excitement it should be pointed out that 21 of those internationals were wearing masks.

The one who wasn't was appropriately red-faced as he recounted the goings-on of what Warren Gatland termed "Shane Williams Day". "Embarrassing, that's what it's been," said Williams, with a headshake and a smile. "Warren's been on about what he was going to do for a while, but I thought he was pulling my leg. So I've turned up this morning, they've all got those daft masks on – Warren's a bit too keen on wearing his for my liking – and they've converted the team room into a shrine, with photos of me everywhere and a video montage of my tries. I even went for a pee and there was a picture of me above the urinal. It's been the strangest day of my career, by far."

From the look of him at the team hotel it had also been one of the most emotional. The tracks of his tears are likely to become canyons by the time the week is over. On Saturday, the 34-year-old with the dancing feet and the double-jointed ankles will play for Wales for the last time. In truth, this is not "Shane Williams Day" but "Shane Williams Week". The WRU is forecasting a 74,000 sell-out and it would be no exaggeration to suggest many will be there simply to pay homage. That is how big this little man from the Amman Valley has become.

A 5ft 7in magician, who in his own tiny way, is as much a freak as Jonah Lomu. A player written off as too small who did not just forge himself a career, but a mammoth one at that, breaking the Welsh try-scoring record and, in 2008, being named the World Player of the Year. Once they shouted "give it to the ballboy" but so soon they screamed "give it to Shane". Little wonder the Welsh squad and, indeed, their grizzled coach hold him in such affection. "We wanted to do something special for him," said Gatland, when he eventually consented to remove the mask. "We've had his family and friends in for lunch, which was great for him and for them. I even got Shane to announce the team, this morning."

"He did," confirmed Williams. "And we had a bit of fun with the squad pretending that Warren actually let me pick the side. That's one of the things I'll miss most – the mickey-taking, the camaraderie. It was has been a really, really nice day."

Nice, but poignant. "Yeah, I suppose when I do lie on my bed tonight it will all sink in, 'This is it, this is my last week with Wales'," he said. "There is that sadness gnawing away in the background, but I'm more excited than upset. I've been given this opportunity to say goodbye and I'm thankful for it. I'm going to have a great day and I'm determined to go out with a bang, to play my best, to win with Wales and to go out on a high."

Of course, if Williams does rise to the occasion – and expect him to, as he invariably has whenever the spotlight has glared in his eyes – the question will go up: "Why retire Shane?" Yesterday, Gatland revealed that far from being a ceremonial selection, Williams, despite being nine years older than anyone else in the backline, was the first on the teamsheet, such has been his form in the World Cup and since. "That's the way I wanted my story to finish really," said Williams. "It's not that I'm turning my back on my country, that there's some hidden agenda. I'm a very proud Welshman. It's just in my heart I believe this is the time. That's all it is. Yes, there's [David] Campese's [international] try record [64 to Williams's 59] and the chance of getting to 100 caps [Williams has 86]. But I'd be devastated if I tried to do that and I spent two years scoring one try. That's not what I'm about. I've always done things on my own terms and I want to end it on my own terms. It'd be great to go out at the top."

So long as he doesn't finish as he started. His first touch in international rugby was to chuck an interception for Emile Ntamack to run 70 yards and score under the posts. That was in 2000, when he was 11st and as green as all of the valleys put together. Said Williams: "At that moment I thought, 'Right I've had my cap, fair enough, I'll see you later'." They did see him later. And in their dreams after that, as well.

This has been an incredible journey, "a rollercoaster" as Williams inevitably calls it. Thrown side to side by coaches and opponents alike, Williams has been hurtled to the bottom of the ride, where he gripped on, pinned back his head and made the steep ascent. At one stage the injuries almost outnumbered the doubters, but now the bones are as kindly as his many admirers. Why? Because Shane Williams decided to be Shane Williams again. Not the bulked-up version. "When I realised that, I never looked back," he said.

The great individual, however, has always remained a team man. It is not just his size which precluded him from entering a dwarf-throwing competition. Wales have come first and his nation will remain first until the final whistle blows on Saturday. "This won't be Shane Williams versus Australia – it will be Wales versus Australia," he said. "I don't want the emotion of my final game to cloud that. It's about going out there as a collective and showing that we've moved on from the World Cup. What makes it easier to retire is looking at all the young lads coming though and seeing their confidence and conviction. There is no intimidation whatsoever."

Very probably it was fear which drove Williams on. But now, as the curtain hovers, only one alarm bell rings. "I'll tell you what I'm most dreading – crying in front of millions of people," he said. "I'm not going to be all macho and say I won't. If we win, if we beat Australia, with my wife and two children there... yeah, I'm bound to shed a tear. I just hope everyone will forgive me if I do." They will. For there's only one Shane Williams. Masks or no masks.

'I felt invincible': Williams' career in his own words

Best year

"I know it was coming off a terrible World Cup but in the 2007-2008 season I never felt so good, so fit and so sharp and that sticks out. As a player you won't get many times when you think, 'I couldn't be any fitter, faster and stronger'. I felt invincible. The bounce of the ball almost seemed to land in my pocket; if there was an opportunity I would take it. In that Six Nations I was on the end of almost all the moves (such as against Italy). Then I went out to play the world champions in South Africa and I probably played even better. And everything that came with it – the Six Nations award [best player of the tournament], the IRB Award [World Player of the year]... overwhelming really."

Worst year

"In 2002 I tried to become a player I wasn't – and paid the price. A lot had been said about my size and strength and I took it to heart. Over a pre-season I tried to put weight on, tried to become a bigger, physical player and it backfired. I was injured quite often and when I did play I was too heavy and too cumbersome. I lost form and lost my Wales place. That is when I decided I couldn't please everyone. I focused on playing the rugby I wanted to play and be the player I wanted to be. Since then I've done things on my own terms and played my own brand and style of rugby. It hasn't always worked – nobody's perfect. But that's the way I am."

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game