Among the sights and sounds of a Welsh Grand Slam, the indigenous songs in the Principality Stadium lingered in the ears for hours: the national anthem and Hymns and Arias and Have a Nice Day and What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? No, it was Alun Wyn Jones, and the Irish needed to do much more than wrench his knee in a horrible first-half hyperextension to stop the mighty captain of Wales tackling and hitting rucks and running off line-outs and being the standout personality of this Six Nations, by a street.
Wales completed the clean sweep to win the Championship by five points from England by turning a supposedly tricky final-round match against Ireland into a joyous procession right from the opening try in 69 seconds – a chip-and-gather beauty made by stand-off Gareth Anscombe and finished by inside centre Hadleigh Parkes.
But these two imported New Zealanders are mere novices when compared with their countryman Warren Gatland, the Wales head coach, for whom, like Jones, this was a third Grand Slam to go with 2008 and 2012. The grizzled, grey-haired eminence out of Hamilton in New Zealand has been at this Six Nations business for 21 years, off and on, initially with Ireland from 1998 to 2001, then with Wales from 2008 to date, give or take a couple of seasons when he took a back seat with the Welsh in order to concentrate on a parallel role with the Lions.
Three Slams is a Championship record for a coach and while no one else has spent so long with one team, the longevity in itself is a tribute to Gatland. “If I was a regional coach I’d probably be giving the players Monday off,” he said. “They have worked their butts off in this campaign. They have done a lot of their own preparation and when we’ve asked them to train hard, they’ve done that as well. It is not always about winning but the Welsh public want to see this group try hard and they have done that.”
Gatland, pictured, has not always won with Wales and some in the past have fretted about “Warrenball” and at what had happened to the sidesteppers and willowy runners. The regional sides continue to foster rancour and dispute. In this team there was plenty else to admire: a scrum going forwards, a maul in which Adam Beard and Justin Tipuric wheedled their way expertly through the green jerseys and, above all, a maniacal work ethic, embodied in Josh Navidi, the dreadlocked Iranian-descended flanker. The press box in Cardiff, almost at pitch level, is perfect for appreciating Navidi’s anticipation and impact and speed off the line, whizzing across the damp turf like a human hovercraft. You could also see how Wales targeted Billy Vunipola when England were in town. And, yes, there was still a place for the far from gargantuan full-back Liam Williams, although on this occasion his brilliant high-ball work was done by his wing colleague, Josh Adams.
When Ireland’s stand-off Johnny Sexton was harried into a kick out on the full, he waved a hand of apology. It mimicked precisely the action and reaction of Owen Farrell when England were beaten in Cardiff three weeks ago. That day the sun shone; on Saturday it rained. Wales did not mind either way.
The next stop is the World Cup this autumn. The Welsh players cannot transport the entire Cardiff crowd to Japan, so they will need to tap a fresh source of emotional energy. But you trust Gatland beyond all other coaches to achieve it.