IT was a disappointing end, to what has ultimately been an underwhelming 2017 RBS 6 Nations campaign for Wales.
Saturday’s last gasp 20-18 defeat in Paris, where considerably more than the result will linger long in the memory, confined Rob Howley’s men to a fifth placed finish after two wins and three defeats, their worst final position since 2007.
And in the last of his series of 6 Nations interviews and analysis with Telegraph Sport, Shane Williams admitted his countrymen could have few complaints.
“Yes it was disappointing how we lost, but we got ourselves into that position in the first place,” he said.
“We started poorly and were disjointed and falling off tackles. France were in total command for 20 minutes.
“We did then come into it slowly and Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking was superb. But again we didn’t create much, our passing wasn’t good enough, and didn’t play with enough width.
“When you’re only five points up late on there is always a chance you can lose the game. France put us under a lot of pressure and in the end, you have to say they deserved it.”
And the 40-year-old was at a loss to explain Wales’ inconsistency throughout the campaign, or the fact that they struggled for long periods in all three away games.
“On paper it looks like playing away from home was factor but I don’t buy that,” he said.
“There is a lot of experience in that side and we have players there who had been to Paris and won before. Plus when you go away with Wales there is so much travelling support that intimidation shouldn’t be a factor either.
“Against England, although we lost, we attacked with width and tempo and against Ireland we were superb. I was rubbing my hands together after that thinking we would come to Paris and win, but not once have me matched our two performances in Cardiff away from home.
“It’s mind boggling to think we really stood up against the two best sides in the Championship but no-one else.”
But of course, for pundits, newspapers, and supporters alike, the Welsh result in Paris was overshadowed somewhat by a truly bizarre ending, where Les Blues sealed in victory in the 100th minute of the match, with a try by Damien Chouly.
That came after a series of French penalties, re-set scrums, and questionable delays – including France replacing a supposedly injured Uini Atonio with Rabah Slimani in the front row as they pushed for a set piece score.
And whilst Williams refused to blame the saga for the Welsh defeat, and backed referee Wayne Barnes, he said the incident could potentially damage the integrity of the game.
“Everyone clearly heard the conversation between Atonio and the referee where he said he had a bad back but could carry on.
“Next thing there is a doctor on the field and he is going off for a head injury. If that was a lie, then of course integrity has to be questioned.
“What I don’t understand is he went off supposedly for an immediate head injury assessment (HIA). Well what is the result of that assessment? Why hasn’t anything been confirmed? You don’t wish a head injury on any player, but I like to think he was being genuine.”
But Wales’ record try scorer had no qualms about the way Barnes handled the whole affair.
“I have no problem at all with the way he refereed the situation. He clearly asked a team doctor if the player needed a HIA, and was told he did. He had no option but to accept medical opinion and allow the replacement.
“Perhaps the deliberate knock on that prevented George North could have been a penalty try as I believe George would have scored. But still, I think there were Wales players who were lucky to escape a yellow card during the 80 minutes and he (Barnes) could easily have given a penalty try against us at the end.”
Moving away from the controversy, whilst Williams voiced his disappointment at the Welsh campaign, he said it had been a ‘great’ and unpredictable Championship.
And he was full of praise for Vern Cotter’s Scotland, who finished their campaign with a 29-0 win in Italy.
“Scotland have played so well and the Six Nations has been better for it.
“They have developed massively and are now a real threat. Sadly Italy seem to have taken a backward step - Sergio Parisse is keeping them going but it’s a lot of work for one man. They’ve offered very little for the neutral.
“England started slowly but then seemed to be steam rolling towards the Grand Slam before losing 13-9 in Dublin to Ireland on Saturday.
“We’ve seen a lot of tries, controversies, ups and downs and talking points. It’s been great.”
And whilst much of the British and Irish rugby public will turn their attention to the Lions tour to New Zealand this summer, it is easy to forget that Wales, minus Warren Gatland and current interim coach Rob Howley, will have an important trip of their own with tests away to Tonga and Samoa.
And it’s a tour that Williams insists Wales must use to blood a host of promising young players who have thus far been denied game time on the international stage.
“Look you will need some experience out there – there are going to be two very difficult and very physical test matches,” he said.
“But this is an opportunity for our youngsters. The likes of Sam Davies, Keelan Giles, Steffan Evans, Thomas Young, and Olly Cracknell have been playing well at club and regional level and they need to be given a chance.
“Of course you’re not going to throw in 15 youngsters to play Pacific islanders, but we have to get the blend right of experience and promising players who the public want to see given a chance.”
But for this weekend, Williams’ main rugby focus will be a long way from the international elite, as he hopes to attend the National Bowl semi-final in Lampeter between Cardigan and his beloved home town club, Amman United.
- On April 1, the inaugural Tour De Shane will take place in Pembrokeshire - a cycling event to raise funds for the The Velindre Cancer Centre. For more information on the event, or to enter either the 50 or 70 mile routes on offer, visit www.man-upuk.com/tour-de-shane.