By Ben Hart
Shane Williams has warned Wales against complacency ahead of a favourable looking Rugby World Cup group – admitting he is still scarred by an ‘embarrassing’ early exit in 2007.
Wales have been drawn as the top seed in Pool C for this year's tournament and despite falling to ninth in the world rankings, will be favourites to progress alongside Australia ahead of Fiji, Georgia and Portugal.
Wing wizard Williams was part of a squad who had their World Cup dreams shattered by Fiji in 2007 and has urged Warren Gatland’s side to be at the top of their game from the first kick off this time round.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” said Williams.
“A World Cup is over in a heartbeat and if you go in complacent and look towards the knockout stages before you’ve kicked a ball, then you can be in a world of hurt.
“You look at Portugal and this could be their last World Cup for a long time. They will give absolutely everything so they are a dangerous side in that respect.
“The beauty of a World Cup is that sometimes there is a giant-slaying, a drubbing or some of the best rugby ever played.”
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Wales needed a win over Fiji in their final pool game of the 2007 tournament to advance to the quarter-finals but were stunned by a 38-34 defeat to the pacific islanders in what was captain Gareth Thomas’ final match as an international.
Williams has never forgotten the disappointment that followed that shock exit and wants the current crop of Welsh stars to avoid that sense of regret.
“We played some good rugby until that point and then tried to beat Fiji at their own game with an open, expansive game which backfired to say the least,” said Williams, who was speaking as part of Thomas’ Three Peaks challenge to demonstrate that living with HIV need not be a barrier to achieving anything, and to celebrate how far science and medicine have come in the last few decades.
“We came home without qualifying for the quarters, which is quite embarrassing when you’re coming home and a lot of your family members are going on a plane to Marseille because they thought you would be there.”
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A fifth-place finish in the 2023 Six Nations has tempered expectations ahead of another trip across the channel later this year.
Williams remains upbeat, however, believing the current squad has what it takes to restore some pride to Welsh rugby after a debilitating few months marred by player unrest.
“A World Cup quarter-final is a must,” said Williams.
“Once you get to that quarter-final stage, anything can happen. It’s about time we started being a bit more positive about Welsh rugby.
“One thing I’ve found is that you can never write the Welsh off, it could be a very positive World Cup.
“It’s about putting a smile back on the supporters' faces and I believe this squad can do that.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv