There have been few better individual performances across a Guinness Six Nations campaign than Shane Williams, the 2008 Player of the Championship.
Williams was simply on fire for Wales, who emerged from the ashes of being dumped out of the previous year’s World Cup at the group stage by Fiji to claim a glorious Grand Slam under new head coach Warren Gatland.
The catalyst for their success was unquestionably Williams, who scored six tries during the Championship, as he reached what was arguably his peak as a world-class winger.
He became his country’s record try scorer to boot and became a national treasure after leaving a string of opponents trailing in his wake.
BACK FROM THE DEPTHS
Going into the 2008 Championship, Wales weren’t really considered favourites following their World Cup disappointment and were an unknown quantity when they travelled to Twickenham to face England.
At 19-6 down in the early stages of the second half, it wasn’t looking rosy for the Welsh, but they gave an early indication under their new boss that they never knew when they were beaten.
Two tries in three minutes from Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips turned the match on its head and gave Wales a 26-19 victory, their first at Twickenham in 20 years.
After making history as a team, Williams then set about doing so individually when Scotland visited Cardiff in Round 2.
He opened his account after 13 minutes with a marvellous sidestep for Wales’ first try before doubling up with 12 minutes to go with a brilliant individual effort from 40 metres out to seal a 30-15 win.
FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Williams then made it a ‘double double’ by scoring twice in a routine 47-8 victory against Italy in Round 3, as Wales ran in five tries in total.
They were already in control by the time Williams steamed on to Stephen Jones’ pass to go in down the right just short of the hour mark and he rounded things off with six minutes remaining with a scorching run from halfway that left that left five Italians trailing.
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His biggest contribution was to come in Round 4, however, in what was a tight contest against Ireland at Croke Park.
Defences were on top with the score locked at 6-6 after 51 minutes when Williams received the ball from Jones before bursting through a gap, and past three Irishmen, to score what was the only try of a 16-12 triumph.
It was also his 40th try for Wales, equalling Gareth Thomas’ record.
ROARED HOME TO VICTORY
The result in Dublin put Wales on the brink of a second Grand Slam in four years, with only France in Cardiff standing in their way, and yet again Williams was the game changer.
Three penalties from James Hook had been cancelled out by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde to leave the teams level at 9-9 after an hour.
Williams chose that moment to go out on his own as his country’s record try scorer by hacking on a loose ball before scoring under the posts.
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A late try amid increasing Cardiff delirium by Martyn Williams sealed a 29-12 win and a glorious start to the Gatland era.
To the surprise of nobody, Williams finished ahead of teammates Phillips and Ryan Jones, France’s Vincent Clerc, Italy’s Sergio Parisse and Scotland’s Mike Blair in being named Player of the Championship.
The accolades didn’t stop for Williams that year, either, as his stunning performances led to him winning the IRB Player of the Year award.