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Martyn Williams column

Martyn Williams
By Martyn Williams
Wales and Lions flanker

I remember watching the Lions return home after beating South Africa in 1997 and vowing that I'd emulate them one day.

My Pontypridd team-mate Neil Jenkins was one of the heroes of that series win over the Boks and I'd gone to pick him up from the airport.

As I watched the squad file off the plane - a little the worse for wear - I thought about what they'd achieved and how good they must have felt.

I think Jenks got sick of me asking questions about the tour over the next few months.

Sir Clive Woodward talks to Gavin Henson, Martyn Williams and Ben Kay
If I'm honest, my main memories of 2005 are of rugby pitches and hotel rooms

That was a very different time to be a rugby player, because the game had just turned professional, but I desperately want to be part of a winning series in South Africa this time.

I've been on two Lions tours and haven't managed to win one yet. The 2001 series against Australia was decided by fine margins, but last time was a bit of a disaster if I'm honest.

New Zealand were awesome, probably head and shoulders above any other team in world rugby at the time, but we came away feeling we hadn't done either ourselves or the Lions justice.

My overriding emotions were disappointment and frustration.

Before we had even left for New Zealand in 2005 we split into two groups, which was a mistake in hindsight. We travelled separately, had different coaches and trained at different times.

It meant you could go three or four days without seeing the lads in the other group, which isn't an ideal way to tour. This time we've got a smaller group and we will be united.


There's also a fine line between being really professional and developing a sense of togetherness and camaraderie.

If I'm honest, my main memories of 2005 are of rugby pitches and hotel rooms. Sometimes it's good for the players to be able to unwind over a few beers, which we didn't have much opportunity to do.

I'm a firm believer that the better you know someone, the better you play together. It's about getting the balance right, which is where our head coach Ian McGeechan is so good.

No-one understands the Lions better, and if last week at Pennyhill Park was anything to go by, Geech has got the balance spot on. It was an awesome week and by Wednesday everyone was really comfortable in each other's company.

My Cardiff and Wales team-mate Andy Powell seemed to be the highlight of the week for a lot of the lads. If you don't know much about him, Andy is a larger-than-life character who can liven up any proceedings.

At a formal black-tie dinner on Wednesday night, Geech asked the management to stand up. At that point Andy took it upon himself to get to his feet and join the management. That went down a treat in front of 500 people.

Martyn Williams, flanked by Simon Shaw and Nathan Hines
If you're not picked for the Tests, you have to put your personal disappointment to one side and support the lads in the team

Geech has also brought back the tradition of players sharing rooms and my roomie last week was the Scotland lock Nathan Hines. I didn't know Nathan well before, but quickly discovered he's a top lad.

Every time we move bases we'll swap room-mates, with a players' committee deciding who goes with who. It's all part of building that sense of togetherness.

Because, at the end of the day, we all have a common aim, which is to win the series against the Boks.

If you're not picked for the Tests, you have to put your personal disappointment to one side and support the lads in the team.

Geech told us that one of the best Lions he'd known was Jason Leonard, who didn't start a Test in 1997 but helped everyone so much on and off the field. That's the ethos we're trying to build here.

What happens in the next three or four weeks will shape the Test side. There are boys that you might think are nailed on for the team who don't make it and vice versa. That's the beauty of the Lions.

We're under no illusions about how hard the challenge is going to be. South Africa are on fire at the moment - world champions without an obvious weakness in their side.

The key for us is not to worry about them too much and to hit form in time for that first Test. We've got world-class players of our own and a nice variety of styles.

It's going to be tough but I think we've got the talent to create a bit of a surprise here.

Martyn Williams was talking to BBC Sport's Simon Austin

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see also
Lions focus on breakdown battle
26 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions squad land in South Africa
24 May 09 |  Rugby Union
2009 Lions: Squad & results
09 Jul 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions squad selector
07 May 09 |  Rugby Union
History of the Lions
02 May 08 |  Rugby Union
Mighty Boks: South African rugby
01 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union

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