Win a copy of the Wales Grand Slam book
Win or lose, Warren Gatland will be bringing out his autography on 14 November, shortly after the World Cup concludes in Japan. The publicity puff is now able to refer to Wales’ supremo as a “three-time Grand Slam-winning coach” after this year’s Six Nations added to the Slams of 2008 and 2012.
On to Glory is the story of the 2019 triumph and opens with an overview by talismanic captain Alun Wyn Jones, recently declared the world’s best player by Rugby World.
The players account for most of the words that follow, with George North (France), Josh Adams (Italy), Cory Hill (England), Hadleigh Parkes (Scotland) and Gareth Anscombe (Ireland) providing insights into the individual matches that affirmed Wales as the world’s second-best side behind the All Blacks.
The success was built on an autumn campaign in which conditioning games and power endurance took priority over the match results at the weekend.
“We saw November as a fitness period for us,” explains Bobby Stridgeon, the team’s Head of Physical Performance. “To work the boys as hard as we did, and still win all four games, was absolutely brilliant. We had our cake and ate it.”
It’s part of Gatland’s management genius that he is willing to gamble on results in the short term to maximize outcomes in the long term – in this case, the upcoming World Cup in Japan.
Yet the bold pronouncement he made at the Rugby Union Writers’ Club dinner in January – that a Grand Slam was theirs if they could negotiate the tricky first hurdle – looked like foolish bravado when Wales began in such alarming circumstances in Paris.
A shocking first half saw them trailing 16-0, only for howlers by Yoann Huget and Sebastien Vahaamahina to let them off the hook and allow Wales to sneak the win, 24-19. It’s the biggest-ever Six Nations second-half comeback, although Scotland were to salvage a Twickenham draw from 31-7 down at the end of the tournament.
The training camp in Nice, replicating the ‘on the move’ practices that teams will face at the World Cup, helped bond the Wales team further, with the city’s Hard Rock Café doing a roaring trade in chicken wings whenever the players popped in from their nearby hotel.
The Italy performance in Rome (26-15) was probably as clunky as the opener, but we all suspected things would be starkly different when England visited Cardiff in round three. And so it proved, with Eddie Jones’s own Grand Slam hopes shattered in the red storm that blew into the Principality Stadium after the interval.
Shaun Edwards felt the occasion merited a spot of Queen. “Dooh, dooh, dooh. Another one bites the dust,” boomed out on the bus that returned the team to their Vale of Glamorgan hotel, courtesy of the defence coach.
If the England game brought their best performance of the tournament, the Scotland game in round four brought their most obdurate as Wales prevailed 18-11 despite having only 25% possession in the second period. They made 194 tackles at Murrayfield.
“Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric led the way in particular, but every player put their body on the line and we were all feeling it the next day,” writes Parkes, named Man of the Match.
Which brings us to the finale against Ireland and, in truth, a damp squib. Not because of the rain that teemed through the open roof but because Wales shut down their visitors (25-7) so comprehensively that the Grand Slam was in the bag long before the finish.
Anscombe takes us through that impressive display, Ken Owens talks about how “empowering” the anthem is in a chapter by Carolyn Hitt on rugby’s special place in Welsh hearts, and appropriately Gatland has the final word.
Should Wales win their World Cup warm-up games against England and Ireland (two fixtures each), they will extend their winning run to 18 matches – equalling the Tier One world record held jointly by New Zealand and England.
On To Glory: The Inside Story of Wales’ 2019 Grand Slam Triumph, is published by VSP and, along with the player contributions, contains match details, statistics and dozens upon dozens of glossy photos, taken by the snappers at Huw Evans Agency.
The book has a RRP of £20. To buy a copy, click here.
The publishers have kindly provided us with six copies to give away in a competition. For a chance to win one, just answer the question below and fill in your details. The competition closes on Friday 23 August.
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Six winners will be selected at random, each winning a copy of the book On To Glory: The Inside Story of Wales’ 2019 Grand Slam Triumph.
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