Warren Gatland stood on the touchline, his dark suit beginning to glisten and grow heavy as the rain poured in through the open roof of the Principality Stadium. As his players stood on a dais collecting their medals from the Duke of Cambridge, the deluge intensified. Showers of beer and Welsh tears of relief and joy swelled the flood.
Gatland wiped something away from his eye as he watched his titan of a captain, Alun Wyn Jones, lift the Six Nations Trophy. ‘It was the rain,’ he said later but his smile suggested that maybe emotion had got the better of him. His team had just won the Grand Slam in his final Six Nations game in charge of the team. It was quite a way to say goodbye.
In some ways, it felt strange how little fuss was made of the Wales coach after the final whistle. The cult of the coach is not as pronounced in rugby as it has become in football and even though Gatland was cheered when his post-match interview appeared on the big screen, there was very little hoopla to bid him farewell. Rugby is happily understated like that.
Warren Gatland wiped something away from his eye as he watched his captain lift the trophy
Maybe the lack of fuss seemed odd because Gatland made history on Saturday. This crushing 25-7 victory over Ireland made him the first coach in the history of both the Five Nations and the Six Nations to have won the Grand Slam three times. He is the Carlo Ancelotti of Northern Hemisphere rugby. After 11 years in charge of Wales, he is as close as it gets to rugby’s special one.
Gatland has said several times during this Six Nations that Wales, who moved up to second in the world rankings with this victory, are a team which has forgotten how to lose and now, after extending their winning streak to 14 games, we will get to see whether their bout of amnesia can extend all the way through to the World Cup Final in Tokyo in early November.
The omens for Welsh success in Japan are good. The previous team to win a grand slam in a World Cup year was England in 2003 and anyone who remembers Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in the final against Australia that year will also recall how that ended.
Alun Wyn Jones said afterwards that he and his teammates had put a target on their backs by completing the Grand Slam six months before the tournament begins but Wales can afford to travel to Japan with hope in their hearts and a degree of optimism in their minds.
Fireworks and tickertape explode inside the Principality Stadium as Wales triumph
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones lifts the trophy after Wales were victorious against Ireland
They brushed the Irish aside here and proved with their comeback win over France at the start of the tournament that they possess mental resilience, too. Their epic victory over England in Cardiff last month was an example of the power of emotion and patriotism. ‘I’m proud that a small nation like ours can achieve results like this,’ Alun Wyn Jones said.
Wales’ indomitability turned the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham into a dead rubber. England could run in as many tries as they wanted against the hapless Scots and concede as many as they wanted, too, and it didn’t matter a jot. Wales have established themselves as the class of the field in the Northern Hemisphere. Eddie Jones’ team will travel to Japan in their wake.
Joe Schmidt, the Ireland coach, who was also making his Six Nations farewell in charge of his team, was grace personified in the tribute he paid to Gatland. ‘To be 12 years as an international coach…’ he said, his voice trailing off in amused wonder. ‘I’ve done six and it’s damn near killed me. I take my hat off to him. What a super effort from Wales.’
Part of Gatland’s success has been his ability to harness the emotion that comes with pulling on the Wales jersey and tap into the fervour that flows down from the stands at the Principality Stadium. There is nothing to touch the atmosphere here in the rugby world and Gatland has fed off that and turned ordinary players into fire-breathing dragons in the cauldron.
Warren Gatland hailed his Welsh stars after the triumph before taking aim at Eddie Jones
Wales were unstoppable as they completed their fourth Grand Slam of the Six Nations era
Donncha O’Callaghan, the former Ireland international, captured the transformation that comes over Wales players and used Josh Adams as an example. ‘He puts that shirt on and he’s no longer Josh Adams, a standout winger with a club towards the foot of the Gallagher Premiership,’ O’Callaghan wrote.
‘Now he’s wearing the shirt of Shane Williams and JJ Williams. In that moment, he’s not thinking about them, but he knows, and it’s in the collective unconscious. The roar in Cardiff has an emotional timbre; it’s a primal desire from the pit of the crowd’s belly. They must crash over that line. These aren’t the Clark Kents you know from Ospreys and Scarlets, they’ve brought their capes for this.’
O’Callaghan talked about being ‘hit by a wall of decibel-infused rapid-twitch red muscle’ and the wall was there yesterday, too. Wales tore into Ireland right from the start and scored a try within two minutes when the outstanding Gareth Anscombe kicked a delicate chip through for Hadleigh Parkes to run on to.
Wales defeated Ireland 25-7 in Cardiff in a performance that reflected their superiority
Ireland were unrecognisable from the team that won the Grand Slam last year. They were sloppy in possession and their discipline was ragged. They gave away penalty after penalty and their talisman, Jonny Sexton, became so frustrated that he threw the ball away after one decision.
Wales did their job perfectly. They performed in the image of their leader. Like Gatland, they clear-eyed and determined. Like Gatland, they had a relentless will to win. Like Gatland, they were organised and unyielding. Ireland had no answer to them and the man-of-the-match performance of Anscombe, who proved how much confidence Gatland has breathed into him by retaining the kicking duties even after the introduction of Dan Biggar early in the game.
There is, of course, one final frontier for Gatland to attempt with Wales when the team heads to the Far East in the autumn. ‘I don’t want to get too romantic about him,’ Alun Wyn Jones said as he sat beside him on a dais after the match. ‘He’s still got a bit of time left on his contract. He can’t put his feet up yet.’