On Saturday (17th of March), Wales won the 2012 6 Nations Grand Slam, beating France 16-9 in a tense match in Cardiff. Although it was not billed as such, it was sweet revenge for France beating Wales 8-7 in the semi finals of the recent 2011 World Cup in October.
This is the 3rd Grand Slam Wales have won in 7 years (8 seasons), having also won Northern Hemisphere rugby’s most coveted prize in 2005 and 2008. A lot of comparisons have been made to the incredibly successful Wales side of the 1970s, whom I grew up watching.
In the 1970s, Wales also won the Grand Slam 3 times in 8 seasons, in 1971, 1976 and 1978. But, what makes that period of success so different to the current one is that Wales have failed to perform between these recent successes. Outside of the 2005, 2008 and 2012 seasons, Wales have failed to win either the Triple Crown or 6 Nations title.
In contrast, in the 1969-1979 period, Wales not only won the Grand Slam 3 times, but won the 5 Nations Championships (it became 6 Nations in 2000) a staggering 8 times (and the 1972 Championships was not completed because of the troubles in Northern Ireland), and won the Triple Crown an impressive 5 times. Wales completely dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby during this period. JPR Williams, the full back who transformed the position, played against England 11 times and never lost! Wales have not had this level of dominance in the last 7-8 years.
What Welsh rugby fans are hoping is that this current Grand Slam is not the end of a series of 3, but rather the beginning of a new “Golden Era” of Welsh rugby. The two previous “Golden Eras” were 1900-1919 (during which Wales also won the Grand Slam 3 times, and the Triple Crown 6 times) and the 1969-1979 periods.
The side who won this 2012 Grand Slam have an average age of under 25, so it is reasonable to expect them to improve over the next 3-4 years. Unlike 2005 and 2008, Wales need to build on this success, and try to ensure they dominate the 6 Nations between now and the next rugby World Cup in 2015.
Wales also face a daunting tour of Australia in June, with 3 Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane, Melbourne and, finally, Sydney. If Wales can win one of these tests, then it will consolidate our recent success in the 2011 World Cup and this year’s Grand Slam. But, if we lose all 3 tests, I fear we may be seeing yet another “false dawn” in Welsh rugby. Of course, optimists (and there are plenty of them a few days after Saturday’s incredible victory) are daring to dream of winning the series in Australia. That would be a wonderful achievement, and I dare venture really would mark the beginning of a new “Golden Era” of Welsh rugby.