Welsh Regional Rugby: The Legends Leave
As weekends go in the RaboDirect Pro 12, this was a fairly good one for the Welsh regions. Yes the Scarlets’ unlucky draw at home to Munster put pay to their play-off hopes, but one draw and two wins (someone had to lose in the Ospreys – Dragons Welsh derby) is an above average set of results. However, as seasons ago, there has been little to shout about, with average displays overall in Europe, and only the Ospreys left to fight for the league title. With the passing of the regional season and its collective disappointments, comes a changing of the guard. Well, perhaps an exodus of the guard is a more apt description given the lack of a new guard coming into replaced the old one. Whatever description fits best, it is certainly the end of a playing era for many favoured faces from the Welsh regional scene.
Plenty of star talent is on its way out, the likes of Gethin Jenkins will be missed, but you would not bet against his return to Wales in a couple of seasons time, while the scything runs of Tommy Bowe will certainly be missed on the Ospreys wing. Beyond the stars, there are the plucky figures who found their moments to push beyond their ability. Deiniol Jones was one to punch well above his weight, while Ritchie Rees was one to fight his way to a brief ownership of the Wales No 9 shirt. Special mention should go to the hair styling’s of Maama Molitika, the likes of which will not be seen in Cardiff colours again anytime soon. That’s five mentioned, the list of those leaving Welsh rugby is much longer.
There are three figures in particular who are deserving of special mention though, as the weekends fixtures saw the curtain drawn on the Welsh playing days of three of the modern day greats, Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams and Shane Williams. Two move into retirement, one to pastures new (we imagine Stephen Jones will never actually retire – don’t bet against his boots being laced in 2015), all three have played their part in the resurrection of Welsh international rugby, all three played their roles in two Grand Slams, the first one delivered to a nation that never dared to dream that they would see such a feat again.
For Stephen Jones, the record cap holder for Wales, it will probably be his searing second half break against France that will live longest in the memory. From his own 22, Jones tore open the French defence with the sort of incisive run that so many of his critics loved to suggest he couldn’t do, yet so often did. However, in a scramble to find some classic clips, this wonderful face off between Jones and O’Gara surfaced. At EyeOnWales, we’ve always hated O’Gara and made no secret of it – and enjoying Jones giving him what-for is almost, almost as enjoyable as the Grand Slam break.
For Martyn Williams, it was probably the return out of retirement that was most memorable. The master on the floor of any rugby field, such was his importance to the Welsh cause that successive Welsh coaches would go to him cap in hand, pleading for the Ponty product to pull on the red shirt one more time. In 2008, Williams sealed the second Welsh slam with a wonder break, tip toeing through a battered French defence, but perhaps this highly unlikely clip shows off a touch of his versatility – how long until Warburton attempts one of these? (It’s not pretty, but it’s a bit of a classic.)
Then there was Shane, the little big man who made the Welsh left wing his very own. Try scoring records were made to be broken by this man. Probably the biggest hero of them all for this generation, Shane Williams highlighted once more that rugby was a game for players of any size, and we can only hope that he is indeed not the last of his kind. If he is though, those who saw him play will remember his ability and efforts with the same fondness as any effort by Gerald or JJ. There are probably too many tries to chose from really, but this one, probably not his best, but one that highlights his ability to baffle a defence – how many South Africans did he beat there, three, four, five…great stuff, a try the likes of which only man in world rugby could score.
Three legends who lit up the game, three who will long be remembered, and will be sorely missed in Welsh club colours.