DAVEY SAYS: Shane's exit leaves a huge void for Wales

GLITTERING CAREER: Shane Williams

GLITTERING CAREER: Shane Williams

First published in Sport

WHAT are we to do without Shane Williams? How are we to overcome the loss of his magic, those elusive running skills which have given so much pleasure to so many?

The dash, the flair, the cheekiness, the ability to beat a man on a sixpence, to turn an opponent inside out and not least his defensive ability, even more remarkable for such a little guy by today's standards.

But along with all those attributes he was a man of the people, someone we could identify with for he was one of us. Aloof and distant are words that have never been in his vocabulary.

During the World Cup in New Zealand a new Shane Williams even emerged. For he became something of an elder statesman, a man of great wisdom as he spoke to the media not so much in a friendly way because he always did that but in an almost learned manner.

And we listened for here was a player, an individual we all respected, he knew what he was talking about and he reached a different level again.

He wouldn't even begin to understand this because he is as modest an individual as you could ever meet, no side, no pomp or ceremony, a real natural good guy.

And, boy, did he wear his heart on his sleeve. We love our rugby stars to have a touch of humanity about them and Shane had it in bucket fulls. He cried and we cried with him.

Wearing that red jersey of Wales meant so much to him, as he said it actually meant everything. He could hardly stand up during the pre-match playing of the national anthem against Australia on Saturday he was so upset at the prospect of playing his final international.

Ryan Jones played the part of the father figure so well even if he is younger than Shane, putting his arm around him and patting him on the head. We all wanted to do the same thing.

And as the match drew to a close and a disappointing end after the World Cup exploits the finale was simply unforgettable.

Somebody up there likes and appreciates Shane just as much as the rest of us. For him to bow out at his beloved Millennium Stadium was enough, but to allow him that final moment of glory was somehow ethereal, it had a touch of the supernatural about it. Receiving a perfectly weighted pass from Scott Williams, one of Wales' most promising youngsters, he ghosted outside Berrick Barnes, no mean feat in itself but something he has done countless times in his career, inside winger Digby Ioane and over the line for one last try, his 58th in 87 appearances.

The conversion by Dan Biggar apart, it was the final act in Shane's final game. Unbelievable.

And once more he showed that basic humanity and humility as he gave an emotional on-pitch interview clutching his two children, kissing his wife and breaking down all over again. Heartrending.

Why am I writing in such a sentimental, nostalgic manner? Because I could empathise with him all the way for it was my final international, too.

In my case 42 years as chief rugby writer of this paper were at a close from an international point of view with one more game at my second home of Rodney Parade to come before the very end. I could fully understand Shane's tears during the anthem for I shed a few as well after 280 Wales games at the stadium and Cardiff Arms Park before that.

The years flashed by, those heady, glorious days of the seventies in particular. For I saw them all having started in 1969, I witnessed those Grand Slams and Triple Crowns as they arrived year after year, marvelled at the skills of Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, Barry John, JPR Williams, Phil Bennett and in a different way the Pontypool front row, those giants of the game Bobby Windsor, Graham Price and Charlie Faulkner.

The unforgettable Barbarians-All Blacks game in 1973 was an all-time highlight, then came the lean years before a revival this century.

Getting to know 18 of the 19 coaches Wales have had, missing only the very first, David Nash, all the politics on and off the pitch, starting in the days when there were just half-a-dozen of us knocking on the door of WRU secretary Ray Williams' office to enquire about the previous night's general committee meeting.

"Hello boys, what can I do for you?" he would ask before inviting us into his office for a cup of tea and a chat. Nowadays press conferences like that are attended by scores of media people.

As such it may have lost something of the personal touch. But not on Saturday for in a full media room WRU chief executive Roger Lewis took the trouble to present me with a Wales jersey signed by all the players to mark my impending retirement after such a long career, beyond normal retirement age in fact.

Some kind words were said, I muttered a reply. I had no idea anything like that was going to happen and was utterly overwhelmed. What a gesture!

Team manager Alan Phillips also handed over a Wales squad tie to round it all off before a function in a room put at my disposal by the WRU with colleagues to complete an unforgettable day.

So I can understand just how Shane Williams felt as his rugby life flashed before his very eyes culminating in that tearful finish.

The final game, the wonderful ending, the joy of a career which nobody could match, it all came hurrying back as the rugby conjurer savoured the moment.

The sadness of leaving the dressing room for the last time. Could he dare to look back just once? Of course he could. Ditto, one final time for me in the media room and press box. For neither of us wants to hang around there, our time is done.

Shane Williams' cup runneth over – and so does mine.

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