Wales are the 2019 Six Nations Grand Slam champions, and they did it by winning games in a variety of different ways.
As the dust settles on their title-clinching final day 25-7 victory over Ireland in Cardiff, we look back at Wales’ journey to achieve the ultimate in northern hemisphere rugby over the past seven weeks.
Here’s how they did it…
France 19-24 Wales, Friday February 1
On the Six Nations’ opening night, the last thing that would have been on the minds of Warren Gatland and his players in Paris at half-time was a prospective Grand Slam triumph – they sat 16-0 behind to a free-flowing French side.
Ironically, it was the same lead Wales held over Ireland at the break on Saturday, but does anyone do self-combustion like the French? Cruising, playing some wonderful attacking rugby, Wales seemed done and dusted.
Yet an early Tomos Williams try in the second half after an incisive Josh Adams break gave Wales some semblance of hope, before errors of near-unbelievable proportions from Yoann Huget and Sebastien Vahaamahina earned an unlikely victory.
Firstly Huget, when tracking back to regather a bouncing ball in the wet let it slip on top of his tryline to gift George North a score. A Dan Biggar penalty then put Wales ahead for the first time on 63 minutes, though France fought back to lead 19-17 inside the final 10 minutes with their only points of the half coming via a Camille Lopez penalty.
From there Les Bleus still conspired to lose it as second row Vahaamahina threw an incredibly naive long skip-pass on the Wales 40-metre line. North intercepted it, and with that won the match. Quite what the Clermont forward was thinking is still hard to fathom…
Wales earned a priceless away win, though no-one was talking of them as Grand Slam winners at this point due to the unconvincing nature of the victory, and the fact England played magnificently to win in Dublin the day after.
Italy 15-26 Wales, Saturday February 9
The second week saw a trip to Rome, and a much-changed lineup with some 10 changes to the starting XV made by Gatland and co.
A recipe for disaster? In turned out no, but Wales did not play well and failed even to earn a bonus-point success, limping to a 26-15 win after eventually shaking the Italians off.
Two weeks before their next Championship Test, was so many changes and so much disruption necessary? Once again, nobody was thinking of Wales as Grand Slam winners with far tougher Tests on the horizon.
They had won their 11th Test in succession though, equalling a record which dated back to 1910.
Wales 21-13 England, Saturday February 23
This was the moment. England were highly fancied travelling to Cardiff in Round 3 after comprehensive and swashbuckling victories over Ireland and France, but it’s never easy in the Welsh capital.
Wales were subdued enough in the first half, with England seemingly on course for victory, but the second period was the home side at their best.
They matched England physically, combated their kicking game and in a wonderful atmosphere created at the Principality Stadium, had enough to go on and win the game late on – recording a record-breaking 12th Test win in a row.
Tries from Cory Hill and Josh Adams inside the final 12 minutes ensured Wales kept their Six Nations Grand Slam hopes on course and ended those of England with a 21-13 victory.
It’s been said before and undoubtedly will be said again, but Wales as a team are a completely different animal in Cardiff. Outplayed for large parts in Paris despite their victory and far from fluid in victory over Italy in Rome, they were like a different group against England – utterly brilliant.
The Grand Slam was now firmly on.
Scotland 11-18 Wales, Saturday March 9
Ahead of welcoming Ireland to their fortress on the final day, Wales had a sticky trip to Edinburgh to navigate. And it did not prove easy.
Wales were unconvincing on the road again, scoring just three points in the entire second half against a flagrantly profligate and wasteful Scotland side at Murrayfield.
This was a Test Wales could, and arguably should have lost. They were out of sorts but dug in and first half tries from Josh Adams and Jonathan Davies, along with two Gareth Anscombe penalties proved enough for an 18-11 victory.
The job was done, and Wales knew they had set-up a chance to take it all in Cardiff.
Wales 25-7 Ireland, Saturday March 16
And so to the final day. Wales welcomed defending champions Ireland to Cardiff with a Grand Slam on the line, but also acutely aware defeat would likely hand the title to England.
Inhibited by pressure? Not a bit of it, Wales settled straight into things smashing Jacob Stockdale into touch from the kick off and scoring a try through Hadleigh Parkes inside two minutes and before Ireland had even made a pass.
They didn’t score another try, but they didn’t need to as their outstanding fitness, defence and discipline kept Ireland at bay at one end, while the ill-discipline of their opponents in kickable positions was routinely prayed upon by the boot of Gareth Anscombe at the other – he kicked six penalties in the 25-7 win.
Resounding and comfortable, the home fans drummed up more stirring support with renditions of Bread of Heaven, Delilah and Land of my Fathers a thing to behold.
The Principality Stadium is a quite magnificent rugby mecca. And when the crowd are on-song and Wales give them something to get behind, the men in red are tremendously difficult to beat. If only they could transport the venue to Japan in six months’ time…
Congratulations to Wales and to Warren Gatland – a third Grand Slam in his tenure is an incredible achievement.
Another rip-roaring championship has come to a close, but once again it’s produced some quite wonderful entertainment. The countdown to the World Cup begins now!