Wales seal historic Grand Slam
March 19, 2005
Gareth Thomas and Michael Owen lift the Six Nations trophy
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Context is all. Under most other circumstances this scrappy, error-ridden contest would have been almost instantly forgettable. Instead it will pass into history, being recalled and watched time and time again on video when better games are forgotten.
Few games, after all, produce a first Grand Slam in 27 years, a first Triple Crown in 16 and a first championship in 11. Remember too that Wales's previous eight Slams have all been won in three concentrated periods. This team really will count among the immortals, finally giving the Millennium Stadium the triumph for which it was designed and so expensively built.
Wales won because they had more control than Ireland, made fewer errors when it mattered and made their opportunities count. While the Irish, who had made little of first-half possession and for whom skipper Brian O'Driscoll had an unusually ineffective match, finally roused themselves to score two tries in the final quarter, causing a few tremors as Geordan Murphy crossed with six minutes to go and David Humphreys cut the Welsh advantage to 12, the flourish came much too late.
Doubt had remained, as much because Wales has hoped and been disappointed too many times in those 27 years as because of any Irish threat, until Kevin Morgan crossed on the hour. And there could be no better player to end 27 years of disappointment than a full-back who has suffered through years of injury to return and play, with three tries in the last two matches, a vital role in the moment of triumph.
That, with Stephen Jones conversion, made it 29-6. Wales, enjoying their best spell of the afternoon, had earlier extended their interval lead with two goals by Jones while Ronan O'Gara missed a shot.
With nothing to lose and several replacements giving impetus to their pack, Ireland drove forward for most of the final quarter and scored tries through replacement prop Marcus Horan and Murphy, but end up third in a season where until a week ago they had hoped for so much.
Between the scores Jones completed an all-but-immaculate goal-kicking display with his fourth penalty.
Wales had been disrupted before the kickoff when injury ruled out wing Rhys Williams. With deputy Hal Luscombe also injured Mark Taylor, normally a centre, was recalled to play on the right.
Ireland's start too had looked ominous, pressurising Wales at their weak points. They drove around the fringes, Ronan O'Gara kicked into the Welsh 25 and then they disrupted the Welsh line-out. A penalty was conceded and O'Gara kicked Ireland into a second minute lead.
When Steve Jones missed an eminently kickable penalty three minutes later, Welsh fears mounted. Tension was reflected as Brian O'Driscoll and Brent Cockbain tangled in midfield, leading to a ticking-off for the Irish captain and an understandably nonplussed Tom Shanklin.
Wales had done little in the opening stages, but turned the game on its head with 13 points in nine minutes. The burst was topped and tailed by two moments of typical Gavin Henson brilliance - a well-taken 12th minute drop-goal then a 55 metre penalty in the 21st minute. In between though, came the key moment. Ronan O'Gara was slightly slow clearing, Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins charged down and kept his nerve and control admirably to kick ahead and beat his Irish pursuers to the touchdown. Jones converted.
Yet Ireland continued to enjoy more possession and territory and came close to cutting the gap in the 24th minute. O'Driscoll's inside pass sent Denis Hickie slicing into Welsh territory. He swerved outside Kevin Morgan, but the Welsh full-back did just enough to force a pass inside and Girvan Murphy was held a yard short.
Instead it was Wales who scored next. Morgan surged into the Irish 25, an Irishman handled in the ruck and Jones landed the penalty to make it 16-3. O'Gara landed his second penalty in the 34th minute, but Wales took a 10-point advantage into the interval.
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