Tuesday, November 25, 2008

McCaw relishing Wembley prospect


New Zealand captain Richie McCaw is relishing a chance to team up with newly-crowned International Rugby Board player of the year Shane Williams at Wembley next month.McCaw, the revered All Blacks leader, has led tributes to Wales' wing wizard following his award success.Williams, Wales' record Test try-scorer with 43 touchdowns in 60 Tests, beat his international skipper Ryan Jones, All Blacks first five-eighths Dan Carter, Scotland's Mike Blair and Italy No.8 Sergio Parisse to land the prestigious honour.And McCaw, whose team fought back to beat Williams and company 29-9 in Cardiff two days ago, is now eagerly anticipating the London Olympic Centenary match on December 3, when both players are due to feature in a star-studded Barbarians team against Australia.

McCaw said: "It will be a good experience. It will be nice to have him on my team - I will just stand and watch."There are some great wingers in the world, and winning this trophy shows where he sits."When we [New Zealand] play against him, he is a big threat. We rate him pretty highly."When you do your preparation to play Wales it is always 'keep an eye on Shane'."When you see little fellas like that, all the big boys think: 'Right, I'm going to get this guy', but he is so difficult to get your hands on."That is the way rugby should be. Hopefully, it always remains like that."He is tough to play against when you give him space. You just don't want to give him room to move - that is when he is most dangerous."He is fast, he is good on his feet and he makes teams pay when he has good ball to operate with."Williams was back at Wales' training base in the Vale of Glamorgan on Monday after collecting his award at a glittering ceremony in London last night.

And as he begins preparations for next Saturday's Millennium Stadium clash against Australia, Williams admits it is an honour that is still sinking in."Any one of the lads nominated could have won it," he said."I don't think I believed it, even when my name was mentioned. It is a massive accolade."Williams is now officially tagged the best player in the world following his memorable exploits for Wales last season, which included scoring six tries during their Grand Slam-winning Six Nations title campaign.

But the 31-year-old recalled: "When I was playing for the Amman [Williams' first club Amman United], I just wanted a game for the firsts every weekend."I would have taken a start for the Amman firsts several years back, so to get this award is overwhelming. It really has blown me away."Certainly, the success Wales have had with the Grand Slam has helped."I am able to get a lot of ball and get involved in the game a lot, and the fact I am still enjoying my rugby."There were times in the past when I have been injured, or things haven't gone my way, and I really haven't enjoyed my rugby and I haven't played well."The massive turning point for me was the [former Wales coach] Steve Hansen era, when I was getting injured quite a lot and wasn't getting picked."I was in a bad place, and I started to question my own ability."The good thing about that is that I gave myself the shove I needed, continued to train hard, started to get some good games under my belt and it went on from there."Prior to the 2003 World Cup, I wasn't in a good place rugby-wise."I told myself really to grow up and I began to play some good rugby again and play with a smile on my face. That is what it is all about for me. If I am enjoying it, I play well."

Alan Phillips, Wales team manager since 2002, has seen Williams' Test career develop at first hand, and he said of his IRB recognition: "I think it's outstanding."The little fella has gone and done it, and rightly so. He has played some fantastic rugby for us."I remember when he first came on the scene with Wales."He is a different bloke and a different player now, and it has all come through hard work, a lot of skill, daring and plenty of bottle to do some of the things he does."

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