Paul O'Connell. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

'He always petrified me' - Shane Williams recalls the moment he was asked to share a room with Paul O'Connell


Former Wales winger Shane Williams has revealed he was 'petrified' of Paul O'Connell before he found himself rooming with the Munster legend on the 2009 Lions Tour of South Africa.

The ex-Ospreys star has revealed that he was concerned that O'Connell may be reluctant to offer him the hand of friendship after they had exchanged what he described as 'banter' during Six Nations clashes between Ireland and Wales.

So he was more than a little concerned when Lions chiefs placed his name next to that of Tour captain O'Connell when the rooms were handed out.

"Paul O'Connell was an absolute monster and he always petrified me," said Williams on the Changing Room Chat podcast.

"There he was, 9ft tall or whatever it was and I was terrified by him. The red hair on him added to it and whenever I came up against him on the field, I just thought he wanted to eat me.

"Sometimes on the field, you have some banter that may go too far at times and O'Connell was someone I had some of that banter with. I would make fun of opponents at times if I ran around then and Paul would not be the only person who would have wanted to get their hands on me.

"So I remember going on the 2009 Lions tour thinking the last person I want to share a room with would be Paul O'Connell. I thought he hated me, so when I was put with Paul I was thinking 'oh no!'.

"But you know what, he was one of the nicest guys I've ever met. We are good mates to this day. We played a lot of golf together on that Lions trip and he is just a completely different fella off the field. A born winner who will do whatever it takes on the field and that is why he is a leader, but a gentleman off it.

"That's what a Lions tour is all about. You would get the chance to spend time with players you would never want to spend five seconds with, but it was very different off the field."

Williams went on to suggest former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll was one of the best players he played against and alongside on Lions duty, as he paid a glowing tribute to the Leinster great.

"Brian O'Driscoll is, without doubt, one of the best I shared a field with," he continued. "His knowledge of the game was exceptional and he has to be one of the best of all-time.

"I've played against the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but I was up against O'Drisocll more often in my career and you start to study the very best when you are around them.

"You look at him as a pundit now and it's clear to see how he understands the game. The space he created for others around him on the field was exceptional and his all-round game is right up there with the best I've seen."

While there are plans for rugby to resume behind closed doors in Ireland in late August, Williams says the drive to get Premier League football back will be the priority in the UK, and suggests rugby may have to wait to make a return.

"The high levels of contact in rugby may mean it is one of the last sports to return and Williams believes the UK government's drive to get Premier League football back on the agenda next is being propelled by the finances involved," he added.

"When you go into a scrum, you are breathing all over lads on both teams and there is probably no sport in the world with more close up contact. The money involved to get rugby back and then to ensure fans are social distancing if they are allowed to return to grounds may be too much for the sport to consider.

"We don't have the TV rights and sponsorship to fund that kind of an operation because rugby is not a multi-million-pound sport, so I don't know when it will be back.

"I know how important rugby clubs are to so many communities in Wales and around the UK and Ireland it may be that we are waiting for a vaccine before it comes back.

"I'd love to see a situation where we can test all the players and if they are all negative, maybe we could look at a way to get rugby back, but it feels a long way off at the moment."