My Life in Rugby: Martyn Williams – former Lions, Wales, Cardiff and Pontypridd flanker

 Martyn WilliamsI have only two jerseys on the wall at home – Richie McCaw’s and the one I wore in Paris in 2005.

No one expected us to go to France and win that year even though Gavin Henson had kicked us to victory against England.

To be fair, they blew us away in the first half, but I got a couple of tries early in the second half, and it’s the performance most people remember, although I’m sure I’ve played better.

Playing Ireland in the final game, when we knew we had the Grand Slam on the line, is a day that will stay with me forever.

Walking through Cardiff and seeing the city was all red was unbelievable. Then, once we had won the first Slam in 28 years, to see the people out there during the next few days was unforgettable.

It was always boom or bust with us, and there was a feeling of inevitability when we played Ireland.

Believe it or not,  I didn’t really believe in myself or that I deserved to be at that level. It was only after the Grand Slam that I finally felt   I was where I should be.

I’d made my international debut back in 1996, long before I was ready. I’d gone on a Wales Students tour to South Africa and then Wales had two games against the Barbarians and France in August.

The coach, Kevin Bowring,  asked me to come along, which was pretty unbelievable because I was still not really first choice with my club Pontypridd.

It took a while for me to establish myself but I got into the squad for the 1999 World Cup, and to play that on home soil was special.

In our defeat to Samoa I played at six because Colin Charvis was injured. I must be the smallest blindside to ever play the game.

Having Graham Henry in charge was brilliant, he studied the game so intently, but after 2001 we lost our way a little. That was the year I went on my first Lions tour, and, like the World Cup, I was just pleased to be there.

I think the turning point as a team came under Steve Hansen, which seems strange considering we went on a run of ten losses.

He, Scott Johnson and Andrew Hore really changed things. They moved on quite a few older players and we really did have to start again.

That’s what led to us getting the Grand Slam in 2005. We’d had a really promising autumn when we could have beaten New Zealand and South Africa.

Unfortunately after the Slam we struggled to push on and at the 2007 World Cup, that Fiji game might have been great for the neutral but for us as players it was devastating.

I’d already decided before the tournament that I was going to retire from international rugby so to go out like that was tough.

At first I thought it wouldn’t be too bad but after playing for the Barbarians I realised how much I missed it. I was still too stubborn, though, and I’d never have gone back if Warren Gatland hadn’t asked me.

I felt pretty foolish to be honest, going back on my word, but I knew we had a good team, and I was lucky enough to score the final try against France to complete that second Slam.

It was only in my eighth inclusion for a Test for the Lions that I finally managed to get a start in 2009. After being on the bench for the first two games in South Africa I got that opportunity but looking back now it’s a huge regret.

I think we restored some of the reputation of the Lions after the 2005 debacle but we probably should have won the series.

After that our attention turned to the World Cup and   2011 became my main target.

The emergence of Sam Warburton obviously changed things, but when I got a chance to captain in the warm-up games and my 99th Test, I thought I’d get that second openside spot.

As it was they didn’t take two opensides and I can’t deny that there were mixed emotions when they were playing. I even did the semi-final for the TV out there which was tough.

I really thought that would be it and I’d be left hanging on 99 caps. In the end I got the opportunity to get that 100th cap a year later.

But, unfortunately at club level, it didn’t end quite as I would have liked.

I had been at Cardiff since 1999 and it was only really in 2007 that we started putting together a team which I thought was good enough to win in Europe.

In 2009 we had such a great season and had the semi-final against Leicester at the Millennium Stadium. I’d always fancied myself as a kicker but I made a terrible kick in the shoot-out.

It was the result of 100 minutes of rugby and some very tired legs, but it would have been nicer if it hadn’t been their No.8, Joardan Crane, who went and kicked the winning penalty.

In a way I’m pleased it fell on my shoulders, that would have been tough to take for a young player.

Now I’m working for Castle Court Wealth Management but I’ll also be involved on BBC for the Six Nations.

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