He’s been there, done that and got the ice-skates. Former Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas has pretty much done it all. In an exclusive column for the Paddy Power Blog, he talks about Shane Williams’ surprising whistle stop trip to the tour.
It was a huge surprise when I heard Shane Williams was joining up the Lions squad for the game against the Brumbies.
It was a crazy decision. My first reaction was you can’t bring in a guy that’s been retired from international rugby for the last two years into a Lions squad. My attitude towards the Lions has always been is ‘if you haven’t earned your place from playing international rugby, you haven’t earned your place on the Tour’.
The tradition of taking an uncapped youngster with the potential to be great was one of the great gestures of the Lions tours, but in this case, they’ve done the total opposite. There are some really good young wingers out there who would have loved the chance to stake a claim for a place, but instead it went to Shane. I’m great friends, with Shane, but if he’s not around for the Tests, you have to wonder what the point of it all is.
I had a think about it and I wouldn’t say my attitude changed, but I was more understanding. With the jet lag and the time involved in getting someone to Australia, there’s logic to it. That said, if I was one of the guys on standby for the tour, I’d be pissed off.
I’d have gone a week without sleep if it meant a place in the Lions squad. I wouldn’t care about being tired, going without sleep, the travel as long as it meant I got the chance to be there
I don’t blame Shane one bit. I’ve been retired a lot longer than Shane and if they asked me to play, I would do it. But the reality is, he has been playing at a much lower standard than what is expected on a Lions tour, even if it is just a warm-up game. If I was Simon Zebo or Christian Wade or a player who loses out on the chance to play his way into the team, I’d be furious. You want every opportunity to make your case and that’s what the midweek games are all about – showing what you can do and forcing your way into the Test team if you can.
I would stop short of calling it an insult to the history of the Lions as some people have suggested. It is symptomatic of the evolving nature of Lions tours. We’ve seen already that the midweek games are less important and useful than they were previously and Shane’s call-up is an extension of that process. We can’t criticise the Australians for showing a lack of respect to the Lions with half-assed performances the warm-up games and then make a decision like this. In this one decision, we’ve forfeit the moral high ground.
We’re moving towards tours just being the Test matches with the Lions doing their warm-up games elsewhere. The Test results are everything now, so Warren Gatland is probably thinking ‘if I have to bring in other players so I can keep my stars wrapped in cotton wool for the Tests, then that’s what I’ll do’. At this point, the Lions have had enough injury problems for Warren to realise he needs to protect his key players and he’ll do that whatever way you can.
If it ends in a series win, it’ll all be worth it.