Paying the penalty

Skysports.com's Joe Drabble catches up with Martyn Williams to talk penalties, Lions and EDF Cup glory

By Joe Drabble.   Last Updated: 19/05/09 11:02am

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Williams: Heineken Cup heartache

Williams: Heineken Cup heartache

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Everyone loves a penalty shoot-out and now there is another name which can be placed alongside Southgate, Pearce, Beckham and Baggio in the rich annals of those that have missed decisively from the spot.

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Martyn Williams, a 6ft 1in and 16 stone back-row forward, probably thought the only thing he shared in common with Gareth Southgate was a love of pizza but on May 4th 2009 it was his missed penalty - albeit from 22 metres rather than 12 yards - that made rugby history and ultimately cost Cardiff Blues a shot at winning their first ever European Cup.

It also cost me money as I backed the Blues at 20/1 midway through the competition.

This wasn't the first time I have lost money, but it was the first time in the competition's history that a match of this importance was decided in such a way, generating debate up and down the country.

As I made my way over to Cardiff to meet Williams, I decided, given his physique and probable discontent over the subject, to offer a more sympathetic than accusing ear. After all, I shared his pain.

The aftermath of the semi-final drama has seen players and pundits search for a solution to how such an exhilarating match - which ended 26-26 - should have been decided. While sympathy has gone out to the Welsh flanker, Williams is not the type to look for excuses and is at a loss to offer a more viable alternative.

Farce

"I don't think it is the best way to decide it personally but you speak to people in sport, neutrals, Sky Sports and the competition and they say 'great weekend, great drama, brilliant'," he concedes.

"It's like when I'm watching football I love penalty shoot-outs but it's totally different for rugby. I doubt it will ever come down to that again and it got a mixed reaction over what should happen but I haven't got the answer to it.

"I really don't think it should come down to forwards because there is a scenario where you could have had Martin Castrogeovanni and Gethin Jenkins kicking which would have been a bit of a farce."

One man's farce is another's entertainment and that image really would have been one to savour.

As heartbreaking as the defeat was for those concerned, the fans and players' pain has been eased with recent memories of the Blues' EDF Energy Cup victory over Gloucester at Twickenham.

The 50-12 mauling at the home of English rugby saw Cardiff pick up their first piece of silverware for nine years and provided Williams with some much-deserved reward after 13 years of loyalty to the club.

Led by the tactical nous of director of rugby Dai Young, Cardiff also guaranteed their place in the Heineken Cup next season with a Magners League victory over Munster.

And a delighted Williams, who talks of this season's achievements at Cardiff with genuine pride and no little affection, admitted: "It has been a fantastic season to win the EDF Energy Cup, to go unbeaten right the way through Europe before losing our way. A lot of people have respected us and taken note of us across Europe.

"We have maybe been known as a soft touch over the last couple of years, but we have improved year on year and it was a bitter pill to swallow to go out of the Heineken Cup the way we did but it will make us stronger for next year.

"I think anyone who has followed us for the last five seasons has seen us getting better year on year, our squad has been getting better and better and this year a lot of things have just clicked.

Hero

"Two of us have been here a long time and then you have got guys like Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny who have come in and we have got a great blend and we need to kick on now."

Williams has played over 1,000 minutes for Cardiff this season and missed just one of Wales' RBS Six Nations matches as Ireland clinched the Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium.

At 33-years-old the seemingly ageless Williams heads to the intimidating shores of South Africa later this month to tour with the Lions for just the third and last time.

Remarkably, one of the greatest openside flankers the northern hemisphere has produced has never started a Lions match, but his time has surely come.

Since the 37-man squad was named to take on the world champions, Ireland scrum-half Tomas O'Leary (ankle) and centre Tom Shanklin (shoulder) both sustained injuries which have taken their Lions dream away from them.

And Williams, a close friend and team-mate of Shanklin's, revealed his disappointment after hearing the extent of his compatriot's injury and admits this stage of the season poses plenty of dilemmas.

"I'm gutted for Shanks, I know how hard he has worked to try and get on the tour and he has had a good season - it is just one of those things.

"It's a difficult one because once the squad is named you can't put your hand up and say 'I'm not playing rugby again until I get on the plane' - it's your job at the end of the day and injury comes as part and parcel of the game."

Many players past and present have labelled being a part of a Lions tour as the pinnacle of their career and Williams is no different. What was blatantly evident from our chat is that this player, a hero in the eyes of all Welshmen, is not finished yet.

But, with games still to be played for Cardiff - albeit for pride rather than places - Williams intends on seeing out the season with his beloved Blues before he battles with the Boks.

He said: "It is really tough on people and there are so many important games still left to play. I heard in the past, in the 1970s, people used to miss cup finals to go on the Lions tours.

"But in the age of professionalism it is what you have got to do and it is what you get paid for."

WATCH EVERY MATCH OF THE BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA LIVE ON SKY SPORTS

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