If Shane Williams doesn’t reproduce his best form at King’s Park on Wednesday he can’t expect to start in the first Test.
How just one year has made a difference for Williams. Under 365 days ago in Bloemfontein the Welsh flyer was taunting Bryan Habana as he ghosted past the Bok winger to canter over the tryline. On Saturday at the same ground, Williams’s intercept pass to Corne Uys could have elicited a similar response from the Cheetahs’ centre and capped off another poor performance for the Welshman on this trip.
Lions mentor Ian McGeechan has given the IRB Player of the Year more opportunities than any other tourist and on Wednesday he’ll start his third of four tour matches (he came off the bench in the other). The coaching staff undoubtedly realise his value - if on top form - but Williams in this kind of mode could be considered a lottery winner to make the Test 22.
Even with his defensive frailties and lack of a kicking game, if the smart-stepper was ripping defences apart, McGeechan and co wouldn’t mind. But Williams on this South Africa sojourn, with the hard grounds meant to suit his play, has been the most noticeable disappointment of the 38.
He relentlessly looked for work against the Cheetahs, but every time he had the ball the winger didn’t have the intended effect. Williams evaded tacklers but never breached the advantage line. He is a diminutive figure and wisely looks to avoid contact, but at times taking the hit would be the better option. This was the case with Uys’s try when he panicked when confronted with another willing Cheetahs tackler.
Admittedly, the centre pairing in Bloemfontein of Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls didn’t offer anything in the way of quality ball to their wings, but Williams could usually conjure something up out of nothing.
On current form and lacking confidence, this is not the case.
However, at the Shark Tank he will have the form midfield combination in Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll on his inside. If Williams doesn’t produce in what closely resembles a shadow Test backline, he can hardly expect a start at the same venue 10 days later.
It is highly unlikely he will be involved in a fifth match in succession on tour at Newlands, with Ugo Monye and Tommy Bowe requiring their 80 minutes to nail a Test spot.
If Williams is selected to play against the Southern Kings in PE on Tuesday, he is then out of contention. The Sharks fixture is his last chance.
By Grant Ball