- Richard Morgan met with Shane Williams in Ōita to discuss Wales' chances against the Fijian side. The rugby star took the opportunity to reminisce about the heartbreaking defeat against Fiji during the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
Shane Williams has had some great World Cup moments. His dancing-feet display against New Zealand in 2003 resurrected an international career which almost ended before it had started. In 2011, he scored a try in the quarter final which helped Wales to the last four.
He has also tasted some lows at the world’s biggest rugby tournament: that semi-final defeat in 2011, where 14-man Wales lost by a point to France, looms large. But there’s another occasion that sticks in Williams’ mind, too.
The date was 29 September 2007. The venue: Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, France. The occasion: Wales v Fiji in the final match of Pool B.
Wales had wins in the bag against Canada and Japan, but their loss to Australia left them needing to defeat the Islanders to progress to the quarter finals. What followed has gone down in folklore as a great day for neutrals and for Fiji; less so for Wales.
“It was one of the toughest days in my rugby career. Personally, I enjoyed the match. I played alright, scored a nice try and it went ok. But obviously we lost to a Fijian side that we thought we could match playing at their own game. It didn’t work.”
It certainly didn’t. Wales were 25-3 down after 26 minutes. And although they rallied to lead 34-31 with less than five minutes left, a late try from Fiji’s Graham Dewes sealed one of the biggest shocks in tournament history, and sent Wales packing.
“It left the lads devastated, and days like that still sting”, says Williams.
If it stung for Shane, it must have been awful for others involved that day. Gareth Thomas, captain in Nantes, was winning his 100th cap for Wales. He never played for his country again. Coach Gareth Jenkins was sacked the following day.
Williams went on to enjoy much better days with Warren Gatland’s new look team: the 2008 Grand Slam, the 2011 World Cup run. That tournament, incidentally, saw the men in red avenge what had happened four years previously, thrashing Fiji 66-0 in Hamilton. But Shane says this year’s Fijian team are a very different beast.
“I’ve been massively impressed with Fiji in parts of the games. I thought they were fantastic in the first half against Australia, and I really started to worry knowing that Wales were going to play them. Individually, some of the best players in the world are in that team.”
A slim defeat to the Wallabies was followed by a much more disappointing loss to Uruguay, but Fiji gave notice of their talent against Georgia, scoring seven tries in a 45-10 win.
With just one change from that game, and the Islanders determined to finish third in the Pool and ensure automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup, Wales can expect a serious game in Ōita.
But Williams is impressed by the way Gatland’s men have been going about their work.
“I was at the press conference this week and everyone seems very excited.They’re taking each day as it comes, but I like the air of the camp at the moment. It’s very confident and hopefully the momentum and the confidence will grow with each game.”
Fiji will be dangerous foes, no doubt. But this is a confident Wales squad who’ll back themselves to get the job done.
Hopefully, the ghosts of Nantes will stay buried tomorrow night.
- Watch the full interview here: