Shane Williams – “You Need A Massive Amount Of Luck To Win The Six Nations”
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Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
As the Six Nations gets set to return this weekend – only one team remains in the hunt for a Grand Slam with three rounds left to play. France’s win over Ireland in Paris before the break leaves them two from two following their win over Italy in Round one, but it’s far from over yet.
Les Blues still have fixtures against Scotland at Murrayfield and Wales in Cardiff to come before a visit of England to the Stade de France on the final day, and just one slip up would blow the Championship right open.
Winning the Six Nations is no easy feat, never mind a Grand Slam. Just ask Shane Williams, he’s done both.
Wales’ all-time top try-scorer recently sat down with Betway to chat through his experiences with Rugby’s Greatest Championship, looking back on those two fabled Grand Slam wins with Wales back in 2005 and 2008.
“Winning the Grand Slam is one of my highest achievements,” Williams said, speaking exclusively to sports betting firm Betway.
“In ’05, that Grand Slam came out of nowhere. We weren’t expected to do particularly well in that Six Nations.
“We played tough rugby, we defended our hearts out. It was almost like a movie, winning that Six Nations, to be perfectly honest. That’s up there with the best of them.”
“Then 2008 was a great Six Nations for me personally, because it was when I probably played my best rugby for Wales. We won the Grand Slam, I won player of the tournament and then went on to win IRB World Player of the Year. That was a huge Six Nations for me, I absolutely loved it.
“Both of those rank in the top, top rugby achievements, I’ve got to be honest. It doesn’t come around that often, so I’m very honoured to have done it twice.”
So what does it take to go unbeaten for five straight rounds in the Six Nations? Belief. Buckets of it.
“It was just self-belief,” he explains.
“I played in Wales teams that probably hadn’t given themselves enough credit, especially the players.
“We had some great players, but collectively at times we let ourselves down. Physically and skilfully, we were always up there with the best, it was just sometimes we didn’t quite believe in ourselves.
“And I think that was the difference in those Grand Slams. We backed ourselves, we backed our physicality, we were mentally tough, and we had a strong enough squad to get us through the tournament unscathed, and that was the difference.”
So how difficult is it to win a Grand Slam?
“It’s extremely hard to win the Grand Slam,” says Williams.
“As people who watch the Six Nations know well, it’s such a short turnaround, it’s only five games, you’re only playing five different teams. Surely it’s not difficult to win every game? I can assure you it is.
“You’ve really got to be on top of your game for the full tournament. The level of competition is so tight. One mistake in any international match and you lose the match, and then obviously your chance at a Grand Slam is over.
“You’re playing against some of the best teams in the world, some of the best players in the world. You’ve got to have a bit of luck along the way, you’ve got to make sure you don’t get any injuries, your discipline has to be on point.”
The Six Nations also presents some unique challenges, with five games in a relatively short window.
“It’s how quick the tournament is upon you,” says Williams.
“You’re playing against the best players in Europe, some of the best teams in the world, so if you switch off or your form dips at all, you get found out very, very quickly.
“The other thing with the Six Nations is if you pick up any niggles in training, or you’re injured, or if something isn’t quite right, in the blink of an eye, you’re two or three games in and the competition is over.
“It’s a fast and furious tournament and you know that any team could win it. There’s never an out-and-out favourite.”
And even with all of this to contend with, Williams reckons you still need a hell of a lot of luck to get you over that finish line.
“You need a massive amount of luck to win the Six Nations,” Williams adds.
“Just little decisions, a referee perhaps being a bit lenient on a decision, a referee getting it wrong, the luck of a bounce, or a mistake made by the opposition.
“Even players getting injured when you’re meant to be playing against them. Anything, any kind of decision like that, you take them all day long, whether it’s to the detriment of another team or it benefits you.
“Sometimes you find that you get on the referee’s right side, and sometimes your team’s annoying the ref, and the captain is not quite getting in his own way and decisions go against you. The problem is, when these decisions don’t go your way, it’s almost a snowball effect.
“You start to lose discipline, other players in your team that lose discipline. All these factors count, they really do.
“It’s all about doing whatever it takes to win.”
Over to you, France