Clerc and Williams prepare for World Cup clash
Updated: October 12, 2011, 00:54
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) The mutual respect between wingers Vincent Clerc and Shane Williams is so apparent they almost wish they were teammates.
But, with 87 test tries between them, the classy finishing of one may crush the World Cup dreams of another at Eden Park where France plays Wales in the Rugby World Cup semifinals on Saturday.
Clerc has been in clinical form, scoring a tournament-leading six tries, while Williams has only two - but both were crucial, the first settling a tight match against Samoa and the other in last weekend's quarterfinal win against Ireland.
They are similar players: Both are quick, explosive, hardworking and opportunist.
As Williams puts it, Clerc goes "looking for work'' and that makes him so dangerous.
"Vincent Clerc's a lethal finisher, I've been impressed with him from the start,'' Williams said. "Clerc scores a lot of his tries late on in games, which just goes to show he works hard throughout. He's a player that goes looking for work and comes off shoulders.
"He's certainly never far away from the ball and that's why he scores his tries,'' Williams added. "He did take his try very well against England, but he's had a good tournament and I did expect that from him.''
With 56 tries in 84 tests, Williams has a try-scoring ratio most wingers never reach. With 31 tries in 55, Clerc is slightly less prolific but he is closing in on Serge Blanco's French record of 38.
Clerc has eight tries in his last eight matches overall, and needs only one more to equal former winger Philippe Saint-Andre and Hall of Famer Philippe Sella's tally of 32 test tries. Sella, a brilliant center, set a French record by scoring in eight straight tests.
If he were not playing against the 30-year-old Clerc on Saturday, Williams would still be watching him.
"He's not a winger that stays on the wings, he goes looking for work, and they're the kind of wingers I certainly enjoy watching, maybe not playing against so much,'' Williams said. "He deserves to get all the credit at the moment.''
With 11 World Cup tries to his name, five from 2007, Clerc has proved his consistency, despite being hampered by serious knee injuries.
He is level with England winger Chris Ashton on six tries at this tournament, but with England out and two matches remaining for France, the coast is clear for Clerc to end the tournament as the leading tryscorer.
"It's always nice to score tries because you're finishing off the hard work the rest of the team puts in. It's good for confidence but I don't make it a personal objective during the match,'' Clerc said. "I've overtaken (winger) Christophe Dominici. Serge Blanco's a bit too far ahead for the moment.''
Clerc may have lost a little bit of pace because of age and injuries, but he has adapted his game.
"I have more experience,'' he said. "I see certain things better on the field and am less unpredictable.''
Whether he plays on as long as Williams has remains to be seen, as that would take Clerc into the 2015 World Cup.
"He's had a long and exceptional career, he's still on the field at 34, which is impressive. I like him as a player and as a person,'' Clerc said. "We've got fairly similar profiles, we're not players who seek confrontation on the field, we're among the smaller players.
"I like watching him play as well, he's an exceptional player who can unsettle a defense at any moment. He's very mobile and gives his backs an option all the time.''
Containing Williams will be crucial to France's chances of reaching its third World Cup final, but Clerc warns not to ignore Wales' junior winger, 19-year-old George North.
"North is very quick and strong, but he's also very mobile,'' Clerc said. "He's a player we'll need to keep an eye on - but they have a lot of those.''
As for Williams, he lost count of which French players need keeping under wraps.
"(Fullback Maxime) Medard has a very good footballing brain. Throughout the backs, from nine to 15 and the guys on the bench, they epitomize French flair,'' he said. "I've played against (center Aurelien) Rougerie enough times as well, these guys are class players. That makes the game on Saturday all the more difficult.''