Williams thankful to sidestep for Wales again

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The Independent Online

Whatever else they want to see today, there is no doubt that the Wales fans in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium will be willing Shane Williams to perform his version of the Hokey Cokey and turn the heat on Scotland just as he did in the Rugby World Cup against New Zealand and England.

It was Williams's devastating sidestep which lifted Wales' World Cup campaign and reminded everyone what they had been missing for two years. It also showed Williams that he could still do it. Still turn it on. Still please the crowd. Still nail down the tries.

Yet for 24 long months it had seemed as if Test rugby was sidestepping the Neath-Swansea Ospreys' flier. After trudging off the field after the defeat against Ireland in the rearranged Six Nations match in Cardiff in October 2001, Williams went away with the feeling that his international career was over. Apparent loss of form and injury conspired to erase him from selectors' lists of players to watch. He was so resigned to not playing again that he reinvented himself and became a scrum-half, the position he had played at when he first joined Neath.

Oddly that appeared to work. He shook off the hamstring problems and caught coach Steve Hansen's eye, ultimately winning a place in the World Cup squad - as the third scrum-half/utility back.

But he wasn't quite back. "My confidence was way down in the World Cup," he said. "I really wasn't involved in training because I wasn't playing in any of the matches and it was a long four weeks."

Then Hansen decided to rest some players, threw Williams in on the wing and 80 glorious minutes later a hero had been reborn. He scored a scintillating try - he now has 13 in 13 appearances - burned off the opposition at every opportunity and then repeated it against England, except that he did not score. No matter. The appetite is back, and, even though Williams has changed his style of running - there is less upper body movement, less hip swivel and more gas - the precious sidestep has not been lost.

There is a reason for that though. Basic instinct. Williams explained: "The ability to sidestep is something that's come naturally to me. I was always small and nippy, up against players who were twice my size.

"I think it might have been some kind of animal instinct. You don't like to be caught by these big 17-stone props and shaken around, so you try to keep away from them."

To that end he has honed his balance and ability to change his lines of running at pace with specialised training. "I have done a lot of pliometrics, it is all about quick feet and quick changes of direction," he said. "I also do a lot of speed sessions where I am not always running straight lines."

Something else that has changed is his attitude and approach. "I think the big difference between me now and a couple of years ago is that I have learned you can't beat players every time you get the ball. You can't create something out of nothing every time. I hope people aren't expecting that. I will always try things, but I do try to pick my moments."

And he can't wait to get back on to the international stage. "I haven't played at the national stadium for a couple of years and I'm really looking forward to getting back out there. That stadium and that crowd can definitely lift you. I am someone who feeds off the crowd. If they get behind us, it just gives you such a massive lift. It's a feeling that's second to none."

A nation is looking to Williams to pick a few moments and sidestep his way into their hearts once more.