Rugby World Cup sensation Shane Williams has admitted he feared his international career was over the last time he played for Wales in Cardiff. The pint-sized wing returns more than two years since his last appearance at the Millennium Stadium in the rearranged Lloyds TSB Six Nations fixture against Ireland in October 2001.
It was to be a hugely frustrating time for Williams who had burst onto the scene as a baby-faced 22-year-old with lightning pace and could turn direction on a six-pence.
Williams scored eleven tries in his first eleven appearances but saw his career stutter to a standstill amid injuries and concern that he was too small for modern Test rugby.
"I have changed a lot since then. I have learned from the experience of being in and then out of the limelight and grown up a lot," said Williams. "After that (Ireland) game I really began to get the feeling that I didn't have much of a future as a Wales wing.
"It was a really frustrating period because things were not going well for me, I was having a lot of problems with my hamstring and missed a lot of rugby.
"Even after playing the friendly against Romania last summer, I never got over that feeling until right before the Rugby World Cup. In Australia, my confidence was well down. I wasn't even involved in the training because I wasn't involved in any of the pool games.
"It was a long four weeks so when I finally got the chance against the All Blacks I knew I had to grab it with both hands and show Steve (Hansen) he was wrong not to pick me. I wanted to show what I could do and prove he had made a mistake. Luckily enough I got that chance."
The performances against New Zealand and then England made Williams and Wales a crowd favourite at the Rugby World Cup and has given rise to a new wave of genuine optimism in the Valleys as they head into tomorrow's RBS Six Nations opener against Scotland.
"The fact that the All Blacks scored so early, ninety seconds, actually became a positive thing," added Williams. "We knew if we didn't pull together things could get embarrassing. Previously, I think we've been intimidated by sides like New Zealand but this time there was anger, at ourselves.
"Then we really started to play some rugby and showed we could compete with anyone. We really felt we could win. I remember thinking as the game went on, it was the Rugby World Cup, we were beating the All Blacks and there was no where else in the world I wanted to be more than on that field."
Since returning home to a welcome normally reserved for Rugby World Cup winners rather than losing quarter-finalists, Williams and Wales have gone back to the training ground to ensure Australia does not prove to be another false dawn as a proud rugby nation once again expects.
"Yes there's a lot more expectation but that is a great thing, we can all definately feel the buzz in Wales again and everyone is looking forward to the Scotland game," he said. "I have learned that you can't beat players or create something out of nothing every time you get the ball. I hope people aren't expecting that.
"After the Rugby World Cup experience there's a belief in the squad that our heads will never go down if things go wrong and that's a feeling we will taken into the RBS Six Nations."
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