After a bit of a break from pumping out the articles I have now moved onto my five favourite Welsh players.
As mentioned previously, my father is Welsh and I know that he has been eagerly awaiting this installment. It has a very recent flavour as this period under Warren Gatland has been the strongest Wales has been in my rugby-watching life.
This also coincided with the time that I was residing in the UK so I was fortunate enough to watch the men in red compete quite regularly, both on TV and live.
Still relatively young, Liam Williams is a simply magical player to watch. Williams started his career on the wing but due to the regular injuries to their first-choice fullback, the excellent Leigh Halfpenny, Williams soon took over the number 15.
Williams is the complete fullback, providing outstanding defence and positional play, and always finding himself in the right position at the right time. He possesses an excellent kicking game and can often be found booting the ball out to safety where required.
Where Williams’ outstanding quality lies, though, is his running game. Not the most graceful of runners, I liken him to a giraffe running away from a cheetah. Williams has proven time and time again what an outstanding threat he is when returning the ball in a broken field.
Williams’ finest moment was one that he actually didn’t score but was an integral member of: the first game of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour. Without Williams, this try wouldn’t have been scored. He received the ball deep in his 22. Every sensible player would think kick, but not Williams.
He chances his arm, beats Aaron Cruden on the outside and then sprints up field. I remember at the time thinking something special is on here. He passed onto Jonathan Davies, to Elliot Daly, back to Davies and then finally onto Sean O’Brien. The Lions had scored one of the greatest tries in their history and a wonderful reminder of everything that’s great about rugby was set up by Williams.
Continuing on with another Williams, it brings us onto Shane. Shane Williams was Cheslin Kolbe before Cheslin Kolbe – the man who brought people to their feet by simply receiving the ball. Williams was the good guy in movies who you cheered for.
Standing at only 170 centimetres tall and weighing only 80 kilos, Williams looked like a normal person who had accidentally wandered onto the pitch while the big boys were playing. But once he got the ball in his hands, boy could he motor!
He is Wales’ most capped winger and leading try scorer. In 2008 Williams was announced as the IRB world player of the year. What many people are unaware of, though, is Williams was actually selected as a replacement scrumhalf at the 2003 World Cup. He then moved to the wing later on and proved himself as one of the greatest wingers of the modern era.
His speed and positional play are obviously noteworthy but it is his mental fortitude and application that stand out. I can only imagine how many times growing up he would’ve been told “you’re too small” but he never let that hold him back.
A British and Irish Lions tourist on three separate occasions, Williams actually scored five tries in one match, albeit a warm-up in 2005, which is still a Lions record. In 2016 Williams was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame, which is just reward for a fabulous rugby player and someone who seems like a thoroughly decent man as well.
If you were picking a world XV of good blokes, Warburton would be in mine. However, don’t let the outside fool you. Inside, there lives a thoroughly competitive, tough and uncompromising player who I always enjoyed watching play.
Warburton became the Welsh captain at 22 years old. Just let that sink in for a moment. What were you doing at 22? I won’t divulge what I was due to self incrimination from my father! It’s impossible not to mention Warburton and not discuss his leadership. He led the proud rugby nation all the way through juniors and then at senior level.
Lots of people think of Warburton and that red card decision in 2011. He took the punishment on the chin and never used it as an excuse and continued on with his life. That speaks volumes about him. That Welsh team had all sorts of pre-World Cup hype about them, being considered one of the best that had left Wales and they were led superbly over the ensuing years by Warbuton.
Warburton was then selected as captain for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour where he captained the side to a series victory over the Wallabies. He was sadly ruled out of the final Test due to a hamstring injury but he contributed massively to the Lions that tour. Sadly, in his later years Warburton struggled to stay on the pitch consistently due to injuries and eventually retired at 29 years old. He was an outstanding rugby player and a real leader of men.
Alun Wyn Jones
Alun Wyn Jones will go down in Welsh rugby history as one of the finest players of all time. A towering second-rower standing at over 198 centimetres and weighing in north of 120 kilos, Alun Wyn Jones is a brilliant player.
Physically imposing, he is always there when a tackle needs to be made and more importantly, when some little, snotty-nosed scrumhalf has picked himself a fight with an opposition forward. Whenever there is a stink, Alun Wyn Jones is often there, right in the middle.
An incredibly intelligent and wily player, Alun Wyn Jones often gives the look of “What? Me sir?” to the referee and seems to get away with it!
Alun Wyn Jones is the world’s most capped lock and doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon. As mentioned previously, I spent the last five years living in London and had plenty of time to watch Alun Wyn Jones lead his Welsh team around the park.
A particular highlight was the match versus England in February 2019 where the men in white came into the game favourites after completely destroying Ireland in Dublin. Led superbly by Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh comprehensively outplayed England and they quickly returned to London with their tail between their legs. A three-time grand slam winner and 2019 Six Nations player of the year, like a fine wine, he is getting better with age.
The man they call “Fox” to help differentiate him from the other Welsh rugby legend who he shares a name with, Davies is a nuggety outside centre. Davies was known by rugby enthusiasts early on as “the guy who shot Bambi’s mother” as he replaced the legendary Brian O’Driscoll for the final 2013 Lions Test!
That fact may have just been made up by me but nevertheless he certainly had huge shoes to fill early on. Davies is the prototype of a modern outside centre: big, fast, and can kick and distribute. However, Davies never deviates from the classical remit of a number 13: defence.
The 13 channel is the hardest decision to defend on a rugby pitch. Davies prides himself in this area and has proven himself time and time again.
The 2017 Lions tour to NZ was the tour where he announced himself to the world. As mentioned previously, the Sean O’Brien try is one for the ages and his influence on that was huge. Performing against the best in their own backyard is no mean feat and Davies handled himself with aplomb.
He was voted player of the series by his teammates and it was not difficult to see why. The mighty All Blacks struggled to contain him in attack and his bruising hits in defence were impressive. He played every minute of every Test and in a strange twist of fate, he was the third consecutive Welsh player to be named player of the series after Jamie Roberts in South Africa and Leigh Halfpenny in Australia.