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Six Nations: Giggs & Williams - Wales legends at 11

Ryan Giggs and Shane Williams
Ryan Giggs and Shane Williams have both won universal worldwide plaudits

By Peter Shuttleworth

Ryan Giggs and Shane Williams share many similarities. They share advice, too.

The two iconic Welsh number 11s are each other's heroes - and are helping each other to extend their extraordinary careers.

The left-wingers do not just have the same numbers on their back, they boast wizardry in their boots and knowledge in their heads that ensures both still remain the go-to men in spite of their maturing years.

Williams, 33, and Giggs, 37, are in the twilight of illustrious careers, but their stars shine arguably brighter than ever as both are living proof that sportsmen can improve with age.

Shane Williams with a signed Ryan Giggs shirt
Shane Williams is "made up" after receiving a signed Ryan Giggs shirt

And Wales' dynamic duo have swapped knowledge, mutual respect and signed shirts as they show no sign of slowing down.

"I hope the parallels are not just because of ours ages!" joked Williams as he embarks on an emotional final year of his international career.

So crucial is Williams to Wales' cause that coach Warren Gatland plays him in their Six Nations opener with England on Friday despite playing only 20 minutes since returning from shoulder surgery.

Just like Ryan mighty does for Manchester United, Williams' fitness continues to "defy logic" as Giggs' fellow 30-something provides a much-needed and cutting edge to the Ospreys and Wales.

Both teams will be poorer and more predictable without him as Williams is unique in the land of the giants that is planet rugby these days.

Yet the small man who has sprinkled stardust on rugby pitches around the world since side-stepping into the professional ranks in 1998 was himself star-struck by a surprise telephone call from the man he reveres most.

The 2008 IRB International Player of the Year initially thought it was a wind up when the private number on his mobile was that of British football's most decorated player.

Williams, Wales and Ospreys' record try-scorer, takes over the story.

"I was asked by a friend 'Can I have a signed shirt for a friend?' which was no problem," Williams began.

"I asked who it was for. They replied Ryan Giggs. I laughed and said 'yeah, whatever.' I signed the Wales shirt and joked 'I'll only believe Ryan Giggs wants a shirt of mine if he returns the favour.'

"I thought nothing else of it. A couple of weeks later a package arrives at the house. It was a Manchester United shirt signed Ryan Giggs. I couldn't believe it, I was made up.

Shane Williams and Ryan Giggs
Wales caps (tries): 75 (51)
Grand Slams 2
Magners League titles 3
Any other business: 2008 IRB International Player of the Year, two-time British and Irish Lions tourist and record Welsh try-scorer
Wales caps (goals): 64 (12)
Champions League titles: 2
Premier League titles: 11
FA Cup wins: 4
League Cups: 2
Any other business: 2009 PFA Player of the Year, 2009 BBC Sports Personality of the Year, record Man Utd and Premier League appearance holder and OBE

"I wasn't just blown away that Ryan Giggs had sent me a signed shirt, but the honour that he wanted a signed shirt off me. It was a real humbling moment.

"I'm a massive football fan and Ryan is one of my all-time heroes. What he has done for football in general over years, especially for Welsh football, has been incredible."

Williams grew up playing local league football dreaming of dazzling on the wing for... Blackburn Rovers.

"I know it sounds like a random team and when I was growing up, I loved their famous Shearer and Sutton strike partnership," recalled Williams.

"But Giggsy was always my hero so I had soft spot for United.

"We swapped shirts and that meant a lot to me. He then called me up out of the blue to make sure I had received his shirt and have a 'catch-up.'

"I was like a two-year-old trying to talk to him, I couldn't get any words out. I have never been so nervous in my life.

"He is a massive ambassador for football throughout the world and we should be privileged that he is Welsh and one of us.

"I was a left-winger in my football playing days for Cwmamman United and wore the number 11 jersey.

"I used to model myself on Ryan Giggs but not quite as good and not quite as skilful! But to me he is up there with Gerald Davies as my all-time hero."

Giggs, who recently passed the 600 Premier League appearances milestone, beat George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Eric Cantona and Denis Law to the accolade United's greatest ever player.

It is little surprise as the former Wales football captain is the only ever-present in their two decades of domination in English football.

Williams has won two Grand Slams with Wales and three Magners League crowns with Ospreys but even his achievements seem unimpressive when compared with the 2009 PFA Players of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Giggs' mantelpiece is overflowing with two Champions League medals, a record 11 top-flight titles and four FA Cup winners medals.

The fitness and condition of both men continue to astound their peers with not just solid displays, but eye-catching, side-stepping and lung-bursting performances.

Williams is bench-pressing more weights than ever while he continues to beat personal bests in sprint tests.

And if the men from the Millennium Stadium are in need of some magic this Six Nations, Gatland's boys will look to their 5ft 7ins lethal weapon.

Giggs, meanwhile, feels sure yoga has lengthened his career ensuring a suppleness that has eased niggling muscle strains that once dogged his career.

And how many times have United turned to Giggs this season to maintain their unbeaten push to a 12th Premier League title?

Wales wing Shane Williams warns England have 'full package'

"I've seen Ryan has his yoga DVD out," Williams joked.

"I haven't started yoga yet but that might be the next thing for me if I can stay that fit and in that shape at his age.

"We spoke about how best to keep our old bodies going and how much our legs ache the day after games," Williams joked.

It is not just fitness they both share, but loyalty too as both have rejected lucrative moves abroad to stay with their "home" clubs.

Both have also expressed an interest to join their organisation's coaching staff when they eventually do retire.

But Welsh sport's superstar number 11s still have the legs.

And as opposition teams work out of how to stop Wales' two finest sporting exports, their own coaches are figuring out how they can cope without them.

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