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For a man with 87 caps in international rugby, the preparation was unorthodox. Normally, the night before a big match, Shane Williams, Wales’s all-time leading try scorer, might have expected a good rest. Not this time.
“I felt under the weather, like a giant hangover,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed really tired and stared at the ceiling for what felt like an eternity.”
For good reason. Williams was almost 21,000ft above sea level. The next day he, his team-mates and opponents would break a Guinness world record for the highest seven-a-side rugby match ever played. Williams captained one side, while former England sevens star Ollie Phillips led the other. “It was really tough, you really couldn’t run,” Williams recalls.
On a beautifully crisp day the players, in walking boots and with thermals under their kits, trudged to a 5-5 draw. Forget confronting the All Blacks, Williams describes this as “one of the toughest things I’ve done”.
The match took place on the East Rongbuk glacier near Mount Everest’s advanced base camp, and raised over £250,000 for Wooden Spoon, the “children’s charity of rugby”, which supports sick and disadvantaged young people in the UK.
Wooden Spoon is one of three charities supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Appeal.
I meet Williams, an ambassador for Wooden Spoon, at the Autism Life Centres (ALC) in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales. While Williams dedicates time to a number of the charity’s projects across Wales, the ALC is particularly close to his heart – his teenage niece has autism.
“I’ve seen first hand how difficult it can be. She’s at a comprehensive school and is very independent and can look after herself now. She’s as bright as they come, and absolutely loves numbers.”
Williams’s visit today has caused a flutter of excitement in the centre, and the star spends time speaking to the young adults, mostly in their early 20s, who spend their weekdays here. For most of the 11 full-timers, the ALC is a bridge between school and
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