The Ghosts of Grand Slams Past and Present

Warning: The following post is very patriotic, about sport and kinda sappy in places.

I had to work today, and I wasn’t happy about it.

To be fair, I’m quite often unhappy about having to go to work.

But until I win the lottery or I knuckle down and actually go for one of my crazy dreams I guess I’ll have to keep going.

Today, though, I felt especially agrieved. It was the last day of the Six Nations with three rugby matches and ideally I’d have spent all day in a pub or on my sofa watching all three, however I had to work.

With Wales chasing a Grand Slam (winning all 5 games in the tournament for those unfamiliar) it was even more annoying. Wales have won two Grand Slams in the last 8 seasons and I’ve been present for both, but more on that later. The fact is I feel I deserve to watch these triumphs as for the first 20 years of my life Wales went without one. Hell, even Scotland had won one in that time.

20 years without that greatest of glory means that I appreciate our wins all the more.

But its more than that,  I love the whole tournament. I like the fact that it has history that the tournament includes countless mini-rivalries between the teams and players, and that every game matters. Today saw Scotland and Italy go head-to-head, neither team had won any of their first four matches and so they faced off to see who could avoid a whitewash.

I managed to see the Wales game in its entirety, which was good, but it wasn’t in the correct atmosphere. For me the best way of watching a Welsh rugby game is in a pub, with mates and a nice cold pint in hand. It just feels natural.

We thoroughly deserved to win. France gave us a hell of a game, and we weren’t perfect, but over the entire tournament we were the most entertaining, driven and skillful team. I sat there, slightly restrained by being in work mode and was taken on the rollercoaster of frustration and joy that comes from watching a sporting contest you’re emotionally invested in.

I leapt from my seat and roared when Alex Cuthbert scored our try, cursed the decision to let Rhys Priestland take a penalty and held my breath everytime we had a kick at the posts.

But I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t belt out “Bread Of Heaven” as the clock wound down, or dance around the place.

I was floating on air at the end, and had I been in my cups, I suspect tears of joy may have been shed. I watched Sam Warburton, his right arm useless through injury raise the trophy one handed and wished, as I always do, that I was in the ground watching.

Warburton lifts the trophy as Wales celebrate

I have no “I was there” sporting stories. I did once see a record breaking one-day batting partnership in the Cricket World Cup years ago, but the record stood for something like 4 days before it was shattered again.

So my memory of this Grand Slam win is slightly tainted. Yes, I’ll remember big moments from the tournament- The tension when England appeared to have scored at the death to force a draw and we waited as the video ref replayed it again and again before disallowing it, Leigh Halfpenny kicking a last minute kick to win against the Irish, George North powering through tackles and the great work of Dan Lydiate, Cuthbert and Jonathan Davies.

Of all the Grand Slams I found this one the most satisfying, the one where we probably performed the best, yet on a personal level, it’ll never match the joy of 2005 or 2008.

2005- The Drought Ends

Wales hadn’t won a Grand Slam since 1978, and I was in my first year at uni. Despite going to a Welsh university, native students were in the minority. I donned my Welsh jersey and watched as Wales kickstarted their tournament by defeating England, our small Welsh group were landed.

I can remember Gavin Henson bursting onto the scene (at least to me, I was in my rugby-hating wilderness period at the time) with a mammoth 77th minute kick that won the game, and for a big hit on Matthew Tait.

The moment Henson became a national hero, before ballsing it all up and becoming a tool

The rest of the tournament passed in a cidery blur, Wales racking up victories against Italy, France and Scotland before facing off against the Irish in Cardiff. I watched it in a pub near me, wearing the Welsh shirt I’d worn for every game of the tournament and roared and danced as we won. It was a messy, angry game with the Irish being really brutal at times, but my shining memory is Gethin Jenkins’ fantastic try, a front row shouldn’t move that fast.

Being a bit of a lardarse, I love it when a prop scores a try.

2008- Rugby vs Women

2008 was a weird year for me, I’d graduated and spent a lot of time dossing about as I looked for work. I was also in what remains my only real relationship, a long distance(ish) thing with a girl from uni. She’d come down to spend time with a friend who lived near Swansea on the last weekend of the tournament, and wanted me to meet up, but I’d already arranged to go to the pub with Rich and watch the game.

I stuck to my guns and went to the pub, a fact that upset her and caused her to complain to her friend, who being a Welsh girl through and through, had apparently replied “Its the Grand Slam!”

I got drunk and watched the game, and as he rounded off a sensational tournament vowed to name my first born, regardless of gender, Shane after our legendary winger Shane Williams.

Shane Williams cutting through the Italian defence

The entire tournament was a bright spot in what was largely a pretty rubbish period for me. I wasn’t working and as my pile of rejection letters grew I was becoming disheartened and mopey, but for those 5 weekends I got a buzz watching the lads thump everyone and give me something to cheer about.

People who don’t follow sports might not get it, but for me that’s the joy of sports. It gives you an outlet, a distraction. Even when Wales are sucking there’s an odd form of enjoyment in it, I worry about how we can rebuild or move forward as a team, and it distracts me from the more serious, real life worries.

Also, it gives you a form of release that’s lacking. I can vent anger at referees, roar and scream and let all the tension and frustrations go. I can laugh and sing and lose myself for 80 or 90 minutes, or 5 days if I’m following the cricket on TMS.

But I fear there is a darkside, and it is a pain that will be felt by the future Pages. I vowed to name the first Shane, the second is Darren after Darren Pratley the former Swansea player who scored the winner in a South Wales derby I attended years ago.

I did briefly wonder about naming my third after all of the Welsh team who played today, but that would be cruel, so I’ll settle for Adam after one of my favourite Welsh players, the hairy Adam Jones who was involved in all 3 of our Grand Slams.

Adam Jones, possibly my favourite Welsh rugby player of all time.

So, Shane, Darren and Adam. God, I hope I have 3 sons, because otherwise the Page girls are gonna get seriously teased.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. LLAP

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