Wales’ rugby stars have a very special goal in mind as they attempt to mark the 130th anniversary of the founding of the Welsh Rugby Union in style in 2011.
The players from Warren Gatland’s Autumn squad where asked to fill in a wish-list for Santa Claus, just like children all over the country at this time of year, to help visitors to the Millennium Stadium Santa Tours get into the Christmas spirit and it was no surprise that most of them went for victory on the rugby pitch as their top present.
The likes of Martyn Williams, Stephen Jones and George North all contributed to lists which are now on display in the Millennium Stadium dressing rooms as part of the festive Tours – which are available everyday right up until Christmas.
If Wales can emulate their RBS 6 Nations success of 2005 and 2008 by notching their 11th Grand Slam they will eclipse the achievement of the great sides of the Seventies and make it a centenary celebration of the first ‘official’ Grand Slam.
And that’s exactly what Williams and many of his colleagues have asked Santa for this year, with the veteran Blues flanker and Scarlets playmaker Jones going one step further and asking for success in the 2011 Rugby World Cup as well.
Williams, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams and Gethin Jenkins figured in all 10 games in 2005 and 2008 Grand Slam seasons and could now challenge a quartet of Welsh rugby legends who – during the two ‘Golden Eras’ of the 70’s and 1900’s managed to play in every game in three Grand Slams – Billy Trew and Jim Webb between 1908-11 and Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams in the Seventies notched up a tally of 12 appearances in three respective Grand Slams
While Wales beat all four nations in the 1908 and 1909 Championships, it wasn’t until 1910 that Scotland began to play France and the Five Nations Championship became a 10 match competition.
Even though 1908 and 1909 are included among Wales’ nine Grand Slams to date, there is something extra special about the one they achieved in 1911 to make it three clean-sweeps in four years.
Trew’s team scored 18 tries in their four games and conceded only five tries as they made it 16 championship wins in 17 outings between 1907-11. In the Seventies, the Welsh side managed 17 wins in 20 games between 1975-79.
The Welsh record during the recent championship resurgence might not match the figures of the two Golden Eras – 15 in 23 games between 2004-09 – but if Gatland’s men can make it three Grand Slams in seven seasons, they will surpass the achievement of the Seventies when it was three in eight.
Wales’ Grand Slams have all come in spurts. The three in the early years of the 20th century, 1908, 1909 and 1911, were followed by two more in the Fifties, in 1950 and 1952, three in the Seventies, 1971, 1976 and 1978, and then two in the Noughties, 2005 and 2008.
So, if you are wondering what to get for the Welsh rugby player who has everything, a 2011 Grand Slam would seem to be the order of the day.
North, who broke through into the Welsh squad this Autumn with a famous two-try debut against South Africa, concurred with his team-mates about wanting success on the rugby pitch but also added some more traditional requests to his list.
The Scarlets wing went for a rugby ball and a new pair of boots along with a Championship win for the international side and all three players where obviously under the influence of Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips when they added a ‘Duffy’ CD to their Santa lists.
Music was a common theme amongst the squad with ipods and computer games also proving popular, as was a more surreal request – as a group, in one form or another, the Wales squad have collectively asked Santa to encourage Blues, Lions and Wales prop Gethin Jenkins to smile more often.
The full Christmas wish-lists from the squad form part of the special Millennium Stadium Santa tours which now run daily and are administered from the Cardiff Arms Shop/Cafe on Westgate Street next to Gate 4 of the Stadium.
The store and cafe bar will open its doors until 8pm every Thursday evening until Christmas for late night shoppers to enjoy a mince pie and a gingerbread latte after browsing the full range of WRU merchandise.
And Santa will be setting up his Welsh headquarters deep in the heart of the iconic stadium to add Christmas cheer to the popular Millennium Stadium Tours everyday until 24th December.
“With the players working hard to focus on each upcoming game, you find yourself forgetting that Christmas is around the corner!” commented Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half Jones.
“It’s great news for all the young rugby fans out there that they can share the magic of the Millennium Stadium experience with Santa’s special tours this Christmas.”
Martyn Williams is also excited about what Father Christmas has up his merry red sleeve for the first ever Santa Tours at the home of Welsh rugby: “I’ll be sure to bring the kids along for a Santa Tour,” he said.
“It’s a good excuse to enjoy a mince pie while the team nutritionist isn’t watching and with a free gift for every child, a visit to Santa’s grotto and a tour of the Millennium Stadium, it’s a great value day out for the family.”
Family tickets (2 adults and 2 children) can be picked up for £32 and include a 10% discount in the WRU store and cafe bar, a free mince pie and drink and a present from Santa for all the children. For more details and to book a tour, call 029 2082 2228 or visit millenniumstadium.com/tour.