WITH the countdown to his last-ever Ospreys game well under way, rugby legend Shane Williams is set to embark on a tour of the region that will see the wing wizard visiting rugby clubs throughout Ospreylia in the coming weeks.
The Welsh derby against Newport Gwent Dragons at the Liberty Stadium on Friday, April 20 has been confirmed as his final Ospreys appearance before he calls time on a dazzling career that has seen him serve Neath, Ospreys, Wales and the British & Irish Lions with distinction, rewriting the history books on the way.
Ahead of the game, Shane and his team-mates will be winging their way to all corners of the region, allowing supporters to say their own goodbye to a player who they’ve held close to their hearts for many years.
Shane’s farewell tour will take in venues in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend throughout the Easter school holidays, where the squad will take part in open training sessions in front of the watching crowds, giving a unique insight into life as a professional rugby player, after which fans will get the chance to meet Shane and co as they sign autographs and pose for pictures.
The team will be accompanied on the tour by their much-loved mascot Ozzie the Osprey, along with Ospreys Community Officers, who will deliver a series of ‘Atomic Touch’ sessions once the team have finished training, allowing youngsters to enjoy their own rugby fun – with the added benefit of some of the Ospreys players taking part.
“While I’m really sad to be calling time on my playing career, I’m excited about what’s in store over the next few weeks leading in to my farewell game against the Dragons,” said Shane. “Since day one of my career the supporters have really shown me nothing but love and respect, so I’m grateful to the Ospreys management for giving me the chance to go out on the road in the build-up to the game and say thank you to as many of them as possible.
“It’s going to be a fantastic experience and I’m looking forward to meeting up with our young fans at their local clubs.
“I realise that with each visit I’m going to be a day closer to retirement so no doubt it will be emotional for me, but it’ll give me even more fantastic memories to add to those from my long playing career.
“Hopefully, some of the children I meet on the tour will be at the Liberty Stadium for the Dragons game, taking advantage of the free kids offer.”
Shane’s farewell tour kicks off at Swansea University playing fields tomorrow (Tuesday) at 11am, before the school holiday gets under way the following week and a visit to Aberavon Greenstars RFC on Monday, April 2 at 2pm and Ystradgynlais RFC on Friday, April 6 at 11am. The tour then rounds off at Kenfig Hill RFC on Tuesday, April 10 (11am).
The long-serving winger, who was originally signed for Neath from Amman United by Ospreys Managing Director Mike Cuddy in 1998, is one of the ‘originals’ who made up the first-ever regional squad for the 2003/04 season and has gone on to make 136 appearances for the region, scoring 276 points including a regional record of 54 tries.
A triple Celtic League champion, he also played in both the Ospreys’ EDF Energy Cup final appearances at Twickenham, scoring two tries in the losing 2007 game before picking up a winners’ medal the following year.
Capped 87 times by Wales, he is the country’s leading all-time leading try-scorer with 58, while he scored two tries for the Lions in four caps earned on the 2005 and 2009 tours. One of the greatest finishers of all time, in 2008 he became the first (and only) Welshman to be named IRB International Player of the Year, before winning the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year award.
Ospreys Chief Operations Officer, Andrew Hore, paid tribute to Shane saying that everybody at the region wanted to give him the send-off he deserves.
He said: “The word legend is used far too freely these days but in Shane’s case is entirely apt. His record and his achievements, for the region and for Wales, speak for themselves. He’s a proud Ospreylian who has always worn the jersey with real honour, and now that his final appearance is in sight, it’s important that we celebrate both Shane the person and Shane the Osprey.
“By taking Shane and his team-mates out on the road in the build-up to the game, during the school holidays, we are offering as many young Ospreylians as we possibly can the chance to say a personal farewell. Knowing how much they love Shane we can expect to see the local rugby clubs packed out for the visit, which will be fantastic.
“His final game will be at the Liberty Stadium against Newport Gwent Dragons on April 20, and to make sure he gets the kind of send-off fitting for such a legend, we’ve introduced a special deal for the game that allows up to four U16s to go free with a paying adult. Shane deserves nothing less than to see the Liberty full for his final time in an Ospreys shirt.”