Twinkletoes breaks record on way to hero status

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The Independent Online

It was going to happen, Wales just did not know when or how.

It was written that Shane Williams was going to break the nation's try-scoring record and so be one of the main heroes of the second Grand Slam in three ever so Welsh years.

But even though the expectant masses gathered around television sets in cities, valleys and coastal towns were aware that their little maestro would come good when he did, it still took the breath away.

Shane always does. He cannot go down the corner shop without delighting somebody with those dancing feet and sumptuous swivels. He is a throwback to the days of yore and boy were they throwing them back like the good old days in Wales last night.

They rose and paid homage to the twinkletoed freak with the disjointed ankles and took a second off from concentrating on the intensity of the occasion to shout to each other "that's 41!". Gareth Thomas's mark had been crossed and that number of tries in 57 outings is a truly staggering feat. But then Williams does have truly staggering feet. Not only did he pass his great friend in one roll of honour but in touching down against the French – the only top-class nation he had hitherto not scored against – he joined Will Greenwood in another. Six tries is the Championship record and few entertainers deserve to share it more than those two.

Saying all that, this particular try wasn't a Williams classic as it resulted from the most foolish of French fumbles. Yet the manner in which he took the opportunity was sheer Shane and portrayed perfectly what a finisher he is. Yes, he is only 5ft 7in and barely 12st in his jim-jams, but he is proving there is still a place for the little man in this big man's world. It is on the wing, nearest to the crowd, who just love to see their representative fly.

We can say with all certainty who will be announced as the player of the tournament tomorrow. This year it is being decided by a public vote and Williams was already some distance clear before his crowning glory. So the smallest player in the championship is also deemed to be the finest and is definitely the most popular. Indeed, this popularity transcends mere patriotism as the many messages from all over the world received at the Welsh basecamp show. Most of them were along the lines of "go Shane". All will be answered in the weeks to come.

There will be plenty to do before this task, though, not least the by-now legendary Warren Gatland debrief in which he will still be pointing out the Red Dragonhood faults. When the Kiwi began, all those seven weeks ago, Williams's name would often crop up in the video playbacks. No more they don't. He has polished up the aspects of the game that all the experts said he had to. Williams doesn't lose the ball in contact even a quarter as much as he did until a few months ago, while he has been as effective in defence as all of the Welsh, who now also hold the record for the lowest number of tries conceded in a Championship: two.

Just think, Williams scored three times more tries on his own than Wales allowed to slip past them. That sums up their Championship and Williams sums up their improvement. He is a different player and must already be on that Lions plane to South Africa next year. Whoever is the coach of that tour party – and the odds of Warren Gatland will be falling dramatically in the forthcoming weeks – should not be influenced by his lack of bulk. He makes up for it in so many different ways. Williams is no longer a luxury item, no longer the jam they all said Wales could not afford. He is now their bread and butter.

As it was, it was another Williams who took the man-of-the-match award and Shane will not be bemoaning that. Nobody could. To think that eight weeks ago Martyn Williams was retired and repeating that he would NOT be coming back. Well, he did, and what a U-turn he performed. His try was the reward for a display of stunning flankery. Like his namesake he is the toast of Wales. They will be raising glasses in their direction for many weeks to come.