Wales secure Grand Slam
March 15, 2008
Wales celebrate a remarkable victory in the 2008 Six Nations
© Getty Images
Wales were crowned Grand Slam champions for the second time in four seasons as the records tumbled on an historic evening at the Millennium Stadium. Shane Williams once again provided the decisive moment with the try that put Wales on course for their 10th Grand Slam, 100 years and a day after their first ever clean sweep.
Williams' 41st Test try broke the Welsh international record and sent Cardiff into a frenzy of excitement as the misery of last year's World Cup was finally forgotten. The victory over France - and the championship triumph as a whole - was built on an extraordinary, heroic defensive display.
Wales kept their try-line intact once again and only conceded twice during the tournament, breaking the previous record set by England's World Cup winners in 2002 and 2003. After Williams pounced on a 60th-minute mistake from Yannick Jauzion to score under the posts, Wales pulled clear to record their biggest victory over France in Cardiff since 1950.
Stephen Jones came off the bench to kick 10 points, on top of nine from James Hook, while Martyn Williams rounded off the win, and a magnificent individual performance, with a late try. If Graham Henry was known as the Great Redeemer, then Welsh rugby fans will be convinced tonight that Warren Gatland really is capable of turning water into wine.
After all, he has just performed a similarly miraculous transformation with their national rugby team, turning Wales from World Cup dead-beats into Grand Slam champions in the space of seven heady weeks. The Gat-trick began with an historic first win at Twickenham in 20 years, the Triple Crown was sealed in Dublin last week and the Grand Slam won with a performance of courage and guts.
The Millennium Stadium roof was closed to keep out the filthy weather and although Marc Lievremont picked his strongest team of the championship so far, not even the French could rain on Wales' Grand Slam parade.
Outside an estimated 250,000 fans defied the conditions to pack the pubs and bars in scenes not witnessed since Wales' triumphant campaign under Mike Ruddock four seasons ago. While the touts did a brisk trade, Grand Slam fever had even reached the West Indies from where the Prince of Wales sent a message of support.
He congratulated Ryan Jones' men on winning the Triple Crown and said: "I hope your hard work and discipline will come to fruition when you face France in Saturday's Grand Slam decider."
And it was, in spades. Wales were forced to defend for their lives and never took a backward step in an attritional encounter. Wales had to make a remarkable 77 first-half tackles - more than twice as many as France - and yet never tired. By the end, Wales were unstoppable.
But for the first hour Wales were given the toughest test of the championship. Ian Gough led the team out on the occasion of his 50th cap, alongside the two daughters of late Wales international Ray Gravell. Perhaps the frenzied atmosphere got to Wales in the opening exchanges. Huw Bennett missed his jumper at the first lineout, they conceded an early penalty for offside and Lee Byrne decided unadvisedly to attempt a drop-goal from inside his own half.
Wales soon settled, with Martyn Williams pouncing on a loose ball and Gavin Henson a massive influence in the centre. Hook, preferred to Stephen Jones for his creative edge, sparked Wales' first attack with a delightful flick outside to Shanklin.
Mark Jones, in two minds whether to chip or pass inside to Byrne, lost his footing on the the greasy surface but the Welsh adventure was rewarded as Hook slotted his first shot at goal after seven minutes. David Skrela's extraordinary restart went backwards and Wales needed no second invitation to keep the pressure on, with Henson again a midfield target and his neat offload sent Shanklin charging into the French 22.
Hook shanked his second shot at goal but made ammends almost immediately, just reward for Wales' early dominance. Untidy breakdown work gifted Jean-Baptiste Elissalde a simple shot at goal, which he accepted, but Hook slotted his third penalty to open Wales a 9-3 lead after the first quarter.
France began to take control and never stopped asking questions as Wales were forced into some lung-bursting defence. France were at their most dangerous when they managed to break the game up.
After Hook's attempted clearance was charged down, Julien Malzieu broke the first line but was quickly swallowed up by a swarm of scrambling Welsh defenders. Another break from Malzieu carried France to the edge of the Welsh 22 but Martyn Williams, who Gatland persuaded to come out of retirement before the tournament, snaffled the turnover.
France hammered away at the Welsh defensive line and Elissalde slotted a second penalty after Henson was sin-binned for a high tackle on flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo. By the time Henson returned France had drawn level, with a third penalty from Elissalde, after Hook had pulled a second attempt wide of the posts.
With half an hour remaining Gatland introduced the more steady, controlling hand of Stephen Jones at fly-half - but it predictably it was Shane Williams who conjured up the match-winning moment. Jauzion spilled the ball under pressure from Shanklin and Williams pounced, hacking the ball forward twice before diving on it under the posts.
Stephen Jones converted and then landed a penalty to move Wales two scores clear. Dimitri Yachvilli caused a few nervous moments by pulling a penalty back for France but Jones slotted a second shot and the party began.
And to top it all off, after Mark Jones had made a searing 80-metre break, Martyn Williams scored under the posts to send the Millennium Stadium into raptures.
Wales 29 (9)
Tries: S Williams, M Williams.
Cons: S Jones (2).
Pens: Hook (3), S Jones (2).
France 12 (6)
Pens: Elissalde (3), Yachvilli.
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); J Hook (Ospreys), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), H Bennett (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: M Rees (Llanelli Scarlets), D Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets), S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), S Parker (Ospreys).
France: A Floch (Clermont-Auvergne); V Clerc, Y Jauzion (both Toulouse), D Traille (Biarritz), J Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne); D Skrela (Stade Francais), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); F Barcella (Auch), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Castres, capt), J Thion (Biarritz), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), J Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne).
Replacements: W Servat, J-B Poux (both Toulouse), A Mela (Albi), E Vermeulen (Clermont-Auvergne), D Yachvili (Biarritz), F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), C Heymans (Toulouse).