Wales and Lions legend Gerald Davies has hailed Shane Williams and Tommy Bowe as the best wingers in the world ahead of today’s Six Nations showdown between Wales and Ireland.
Ospreys team-mates Williams and Bowe, who also played together with the Lions last summer, line up against each other in the Round 4 encounter at Croke Park this afternoon.
And former Wales wing Davies believes the pair are on fire right now ahead of their eagerly-awaited showdown in Dublin.
"Shane and Tommy are the best wingers in Europe, if not the world at the moment,” said Davies, who was a Lions Test wing in 1968 and 1971 and won 46 caps for his country.
"The two of them stand out quite clearly and are brilliant players.
"Of course, there are other fine wingers like Bryan Habana in South Africa and we are lucky in Wales we have a talented, young wing coming through in Leigh Halfpenny.
"But Shane and Tommy are the leading wingers of their day."
While both predators are hugely talented judging by their try-scoring feats a fortnight ago when Bowe scored twice against England and Williams crossed against France, the contrast between the two Ospreys stars could not be more different.
Former Ulsterman Bowe, who joined Williams at the Liberty Stadium in 2008, is eight inches taller and almost four stone heavier than Wales’ pint-sized wonder.
But Williams and Bowe have each inspired their countries to Grand Slams in the past two years.
Bowe, 26, silenced Twickenham with his double two weeks ago and became only the second player to touch down in every round of pool games in the Heineken Cup this season.
And on the last meeting at international level between the pair at the Millennium Stadium almost a year ago, Bowe out-sprinted his rival to score a vital second-half try – and lead Ireland to a historic first Grand Slam in 61 years.
But write Williams, 33, off at your peril as Wales aim to put the record straight following a disappointing record of just two wins from their previous nine meetings against Ireland.
The IRB World Player of the Year in 2008 has rediscovered his sparkling form and is in the midst of a sensational scoring streak on the highest stage, having struck an incredible 21 tries in his last 24 Tests.
"They are both great players but a contrasting pair. Each has their own special gifts but they are not the same,” added Davies.
"One is a dancer of a player while the other is fast and powerful with big strides.
"Shane is an entertainer, a jack-in-the-box in many ways and shows a huge amount of skill that he can dance on a sixpence.
"He was having a quiet time against France but when the moment came at the end, he showed the sparkle, the dynamism and the trickery to score a wonderful try.
"While Tommy is bigger, more powerful but also for a big man that he can move very lightly on his feet as he showed at Twickenham.
"He showed under extreme pressure that he can pull the rabbit out of the hat when it was needed and make a significant contribution to the game.
"Both of them showed two weeks ago that they are influential try-scorers, strong finishers and match-winners. That’s the crucial difference between them and other players.
"They can pull the game together when the pressure is on and most needed. They are strong players, highly competitive but mentally robust.
"Who knows what will happen in Dublin but both can score the try that wins the game for you.
"It says everything about their character and personality that come the time, come the moment, cometh the man. They have both shown they can score when it matters."
Former wing great Davies knows first hand the courage and character of both players after assessing them up close in South Africa last summer when he was the tour manager for the 2009 Lions.
While Bowe was a regular in the Test team on the wing and then belatedly at centre, Williams had to fight his way into the side following his omission from the first two Tests.
But he bounced back in emphatic style with a wonderful brace of tries in the successful third Test victory over the Springboks.
"On a Lions tour we wanted good rugby players but strong, influential characters who would be good tourists.
"It’s so important that when you are a group of 70 people living together for seven weeks but Tommy and Shane were marvellous in that way. They contributed to the tour hugely on and off the field."
Tale of the Tape
Shane Williams v Tommy Bowe
Age: 33 – 26
Born: 26 Feb, 1977 (Swansea) – 22 Feb, 1984 (County Monaghan)
Height: 5ft 7in – 6ft 3ins
Weight: 12st 9lbs – 16st 9lbs
Position: Wing – Wing
Club: Ospreys – Ospreys
Previous clubs: Amman United, Neath – Monaghan RFC, Queen’s University, Belfast Harlequins, Ulster
Test Debut: France, 2000 – USA, 2004
Caps: 71 – 28
Test Tries: 50 – 13
Lions Tests: 4-3
Lions Test Tries: 2-0