Williams gets a second wind in youthful Wales team
Updated: October 10, 2011, 06:12
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Shane Williams readily admits he has been inspired by the young players who've come in and reinvigorated the Welsh World Cup squad.
With more than a decade of international experience and 56 test tries to his name, Williams should have seen it all before, but the 34-year-old winger has been taken aback by the composure shown by his "calm as cucumbers'' young teammates.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny (22), backrower Toby Faletau (20), winger George North (19), center Jonathan Davies (23), and flyhalf Rhys Priestland (24) have all played crucial roles in helping Wales reach Saturday's semifinal against France.
Outstanding on the field, they have been model professionals off it, resisting the kind of temptations that undid England.
"We do have a mix of youth and experience in the side and it amazes me sometimes how these youngsters are coming through,'' Williams said. "Not that much experience at international level but taking it all in their stride. Sometimes you can't believe how level headed they are.''
Williams has been free to continue extending his impressive national scoring record, content in the knowledge that he can trust his young teammates to perform their own tasks.
"Sometimes at big tournaments you have to look after youngsters, but in fairness they've held their own,'' he said. "They haven't let the occasion get to them at all. They're having a fantastic time but they know they have a job to do. The way they play certainly demonstrates that.''
Eleven years ago, Williams scored in his first full start for Wales with a try against Italy - when North and Faletau were still in primary school.
While Williams admits to having "nothing in common at all'' with his young teammates when it comes down to music, he finds himself drawn to their mixture of insouciance and composure personified.
"They're far more prepared for these challenges than I was at their age,'' he said. "We bring each other through, though. They are young, they are cool, but they are inexperienced as well. There is a nice mix, I find myself hanging around these youngsters quite often. It's nice to have that change sometimes.''
For senior players like Williams and prop Adam Jones, being surrounded by young players helps them start over without the constant reminders of past failures - such as the 2007 World Cup when Wales lost to Fiji and failed to qualify from the pool stage.
"They're not worried about the results of the past, they just want to come here and win it,'' Williams said. "It's just incredible that they've got this self-belief. Looking at the squad we've got now and the way we go about doing things out on the field we're a far better mentally strong team.''
A thorough pre-World Cup preparation based on an intense fitness program helped sharpen minds in the Welsh squad, and the quarterfinal win over Ireland last weekend was ruthless. It earned Wales a first trip back to the semifinals since the inaugural World Cup in 1987.
"We certainly didn't want to go out like we did in 2007. We came into this World Cup prepared for tough games,'' Williams said. "Maybe the attitude this time is far more positive. The self-belief at the moment is the best I've been involved in. At the ripe old age of 34, I'm still feeling as fresh as the guys out there.''
Meeting defending champion South Africa first up and then a fiercely motivated Samoa team was the best way to see if this Wales team had really turned up ready to play clinical World Cup rugby.
"Obviously we're disappointed not to win the South Africa game, felt we should have, but it was nice to see we could perform like that,'' Williams said. "The test against Samoa, massive test of character for us ... from that game we've got stronger as the tournament's gone on. The performance against Ireland was our best of the tournament. The momentum is there, we just want to continue it now.''