Vigour, March 2015

“I’d be lying if I said I never watched myself on YouTube”

Welsh wizard Shane Williams talks to Duncan Craig about retirement, drugs in rugby, his bid to become an Ironman…and  Austin Healey’s world-class sledging

So, have you definitely retired now? Yes, despite rumours that I’ve been approached by my local club and will be playing for them, I have officially hung up my boots. It’s great to be watching rather than being involved far safer. I do find it a bit frustrating not playing though. I don’t make a  good spectator. I’m bouncing off the seats when I do my punditry. Hopefully I’ll mellow with age.

How are you keeping yourself in shape? I’ve been keeping fit for coming up to 20 years now so it is something that’s ingrained in me. I’ve just signed up to do the London Marathon, which is completely out of my comfort zone because I’ve never run more than six or seven miles in one go. And I continue to go to the gym. It’s not something you can easily walk away from. Certain bits of training I definitely won’t be continuing, though you certainly won’t see me in a cryotherapy chamber ever again, I can tell you. It was like torture doing that with Wales.

What’s your gym routine? I’m into my weights and I enjoy a bit of Crossfit with circuits and things like that. I’m not so much a treadmill or bike kind of guy. I prefer to be doing that in the open air. When I was playing we started doing circuit training for the Ospreys, as well as big weights, Olympic-style lifting and so forth. So I’ve always done Crossfit, really I’ve not jumped on the bandwagon. What you see in Crossfit sums up my training programme over the last ten years.

Any big challenges on the horizon? I’ve been approached to do Ironman this year and next. It’s something I’d love to be able to say I’ve done, and I’m still competitive I don’t like losing. I’ve never done a triathlon before but as a person and a rugby player I’ve always challenged myself, and I want to keep pushing not just sit on my backside and let all this hard work to go to waste.

How does it feel to look back on your career? Now I’m retired I have more time to reflect on what I’ve done. Once you’ve retired and you know you’re not lacing your boots up to get your head kicked in on a Saturday afternoon you sit back and think, “you know what, I did this and I did that.” Even now I look back and think, “Jesus I played rugby for Wales.” I’d be lying if I said I haven’t watched myself on YouTube. I don’t really like looking at myself on TV but I sometimes have to go back and remind myself what it was all about, what I’ve achieved.

Do you miss it? I do feel a bit sad sometimes when I think I’ll never again have the camaraderie, have the guys jumping all over me when I’ve scored a winning try or something. I’ll never have that back and it is sad. Of course there are going to be highlights in my life again but I’m not going to be able to run out at the Millennium Stadium and score in the 86th minute against Scotland to win the match again – and these are the kind of things that go down in folklore, and people still talk about.

This Six Nations has had some high-profile concussions. Do you worry the game is getting too physical? I’ve only been away a few years but I watch now and think, “Jesus, that game was so tough.” It’s stepped up a level since I was playing. We’re seeing fewer and fewer of the smaller-stature players like myself; I think back to the early part of my career and I was 10 stone soaking wet. The smaller players are being squeezed out and it’s a shame. You look at the Welsh backline at the moment, for example, the biggest Wales have ever had – and they’re only going to get bigger. But it’s for these smaller players, the Stuart Hoggs and the Leigh Halfpennies, to prove they’ve got what it takes. These are the players that are exciting – sometimes it’s the smaller players that can create the magic. I certainly hope it’s not a dying breed.

Did size ever count against you? After my first cap for Wales someone wrote that I looked like a 15-year-old choirboy. I remember getting quite angry at the time but when I look back I was indeed pretty small barely 11 stone. That’s something that always stuck in my head it made me more determined. I had to put weight on, get stronger and faster. It made me work harder in the gym and training so that, in games, in front of millions of people, I could prove them wrong.

A new book alleges that some France sides in the Eighties took amphetamines. Were you ever aware of anything like that? I’ve certainly played against French sides that have come out on the field and started aggressively, with a quick tempo, a quick pace. Or games where the opposition was well up for it. But I never encountered stimulants in my days, especially not at international level. If proven, it’s a bit of a shame really.

Who’s the best player you played with or against? Jason Robinson. He had an amazing career in both league and union, and was one of those players who was very busy on the field, and who always caused you problems. I used to enjoy watching him.

The quickest player you encountered? A guy called Tonderai Chavhanga, who used to play for South Africa and for the Dragons a couple of seasons back. I think he was sub-10.3 for the 100m. It just meant I had to always keep an eye on him otherwise I’d be chasing shadows.

Best try you scored? My favourite was the one on my first cap against Italy in 2000, but my best was probably the one against Fiji in the 2007 World Cup when I ran it in from about 70 yards. We lost the game, though, so not a lot of people talk about that.

Cockiest player you encountered? Austin Healey, by a country mile. I had the dubious pleasure in 2000 of playing against him in my first game at Twickenham. He didn’t shut up from the first minute to the 80th and even after the whistle he was still at it. I just remember him shouting, “Williams, I thought you had some pace, I thought you had some gas – where is it?” He completely put me off my game – he didn’t have to do anything physically. His banter, to be fair, was up there with the best I’ve ever encountered.

Who gave the best team talks? I used to play my best rugby when I was in a great mood, and there was no one better than Gareth Thomas for creating this. His team talks were legendary. When you took the swear words out of his three-minute rants there was probably only one sentence in there, but he always got the guys going, and led from the front.