It was perhaps the Wales Grand Slam to eclipse the lot, mainly because we had waited 27 years for it to happen.
Even though subsequent Six Nations clean sweeps have been achieved, 2008, 2012, 2019, and Wales came so close under Wayne Pivac this year, the stunning triumph by Mike Ruddock’s Class of 2005 still has that special aura of magic surrounding it.
Wales versus Ireland was a remarkable afternoon that will remain in the memory of everyone who was there to witness it, whether they were in the stadium or in the pub.
It is anticipated 150,000-plus fervent Welsh fans descended into Cardiff city centre that day to be part of the special ‘I was there’ moment.’
Wales hadn’t won a Slam since the days of Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and the greats of the 1970s, who’d last sealed the deal with a 16-7 Cardiff triumph over France in March 1978.
A bit like Liverpool waiting so many years to win the league title again under Jurgen Klopp, when it finally happens it becomes extra special.
The wait was over for Wales at last.
The special achievement is still fresh in our memories, but where on earth did those 16 years go?
That is how much time has passed since Gethin Jenkins charged down Ronan O’Gara and Kevin Morgan ran in that iconic score as Wales thumped Ireland 32-20 on a wonderful sunny day at the Millennium Stadium.
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Simon Thomas caught up with players from the two sides who were out in the middle that day to hear the untold stories of one of Wales’ finest sporting hours.
THE LATE WITHDRAWAL
Rhys Williams was a man on a mission in Grand Slam week 2005…a mission of deception.
Having scored two tries as Wales romped to victory over Scotland at Murrayfield, the Cardiff Blues flier then picked up an injury which was to rule him out of the Ireland game, with centre Mark Taylor drafted in on the wing.
Thanks to Williams, that change was kept from the Irish right up to kick-off, to the extent that when one of their players tackled Taylor early on, he famously asked: “What are you doing here?”
So what was the story behind the subterfuge? Over to the man himself.
Rhys Williams scores one of his two tries against Scotland in Wales’ penultimate game of the 2005 Championship
“Everything had just clicked for us against Scotland,” said Williams.
“We played a fantastic brand of rugby and it went well for me personally with the two tries.
“But then, on 65 minutes, I tore my calf. It just went and I had to come off.
“I did everything I could to recover, getting up every two hours for the next two days to ice it.
“The medical staff worked on me and gave me until the captain’s run on the Friday. I was named in the team and they gave it every chance.
“But when I got out there, I couldn’t even jog. It was like having a steel bar in my calf.
“I just knew it wasn’t right and that I was out of the game.
“But they said I couldn’t tell anybody.
“That wasn’t because they doubted Mark Taylor at all. He was a fantastic player.
Mark Taylor, pictured left, was a late addition to the Wales team…much to the surprise of the Irish!
“But he hadn’t played on the wing for six years or so and they didn’t want to give Ireland any preparation time to work out a plan to get him out of position.
“So I had to stay in the hotel and travel to the ground on the team bus on match day.
“I even had to pretend to warm up! I went out on the pitch and just jogged around as best I could and stretched my calf under the posts.
“As I came off, a few people at the side of the pitch asked me if I was playing and I kept the deception up by saying yes.
“As soon as I got back in the dressing room, I put my tracksuit on and my work was done.”
The 44-cap Williams, now business development manager for the WRU, has a pretty unique perspective on the occasion given his role.
“That day, I experienced match day from a different point of view,” he said.
“With the journey in on the bus, I had a different mindset because I wasn’t playing.
“I was able to absorb it a lot more rather than just being focused on the game.
“Normally, you don’t see anybody until you get to the bridge by the stadium.
“But that day, I remember we turned off at Leckwith and the crowds were starting there. People were parking right on the outskirts of town and walking in.
The streets of Cardiff were rammed with fans on Grand Slam day 2005
“You could see the boys’ heads starting to turn because this wasn’t normal.
“The further in we went, you could see the crowds coming down from all directions. It was like tributaries joining a river, a red river.
“Then when we reached Westgate Street, it was a crescendo of noise and colour and the atmosphere in the stadium was incredible.
“It just felt so much more than a game of rugby. It was a totally unique day.
“For me, it definitely felt bitter-sweet not to be involved. You want to be on the pitch.
“But it was just great to be part of Grand Slam winning team.
“I was sat with Gareth Thomas watching the game behind the subs bench.
“I just remember us going ballistic when Gethin (Jenkins) and Kevin (Morgan) scored their tries.”
THE WELSH PROP WHO DIDN’T SCORE A TRY
Gethin Jenkins scores the iconic opening try in the 2005 victory over Ireland
With 15 minutes on the clock and the sides level at 3-3, Gethin Jenkins charged down Ronan O’Gara’s attempted clearing kick, hacked on and fell on the ball for a try which set Wales on course for the Slam.
So what’s the take of fellow prop, Adam Jones, on that famous score from his long-time front row partner?
“You know what he’s like,” said the former tight-head.
“He was too busy getting involved in the open side of the game. John Hayes was probably giving him a hard time in the scrum!
“No, it’s pretty iconic now isn’t it? He throws the ball at O’Gara because I think he stood on him.
“Gethin one of those special props who would do things like that try. It put the momentum towards us a wee bit and it was a nice win in the end.
“I saw the pictures of the game this week and how many fans were out in the city.
“The hysteria around Wales was incredible, because we hadn’t won a Slam for so long.”
Adam Jones sprays the champagne after the trophy presentation
Ireland came to Cardiff in search of a Triple Crown and aiming to be party poopers, but it wasn’t to be, as Reggie Corrigan recalls.
“That day will stay with me,” said the 47-times capped prop.
“It was just an unbelievable experience. Where to begin?
“I will never forget, we were staying in the Hilton Hotel opposite the castle.
“The first thing that struck me on the day of the match was when we went down for breakfast at about 7.30am.
“I remember looking out of the window at the bars across the road and there were already hundreds of Welsh fans in there!
“Even at that hour of the morning, they were out in force, going for breakfast – and a pint – in the bars that had opened early.
“I remember thinking ‘Hello, we are in for a bit of day here’.
Ireland prop Reggie Corrigan, pictured being tackled against France in 2005
“Later on, we were back in the same room for our pre-match meal and there were just thousands of Welsh fans swarming around the hotel.
“It seemed like people had come from everywhere.
“Then I will never forget trying to get to the ground.
“It took 40 minutes to get there from the Hilton even though it’s less than half a mile away.
“We had the police horses and the outriders in front of the bus trying to make a path for us.
“But the streets were just packed with Welsh supporters. They must have been ten deep.
“They were smashing the side of the bus with their hands and shouting and singing at the top of their voices.
“I’d never experienced anything like that before. It was unbelievable.
“Then when we got inside the stadium, it was something else again. The atmosphere was amazing.
“The crowd was right on top of us and in our faces.
There were some incredible scenes in Cardiff on Grand Slam day 2005
“When it came to the anthems, ours was a little bit tame, but yours was off the charts. The singing was incredible.
“Wales came flying out of the blocks. They weren’t going to let the opportunity pass them by.
“Whatever we tried we couldn’t stop them. They got on a roll and the crowd got right behind them.
“My opposing loosehead Gethin Jenkins scored a try I could only dream of scoring and there was no catching them after that.
“I stayed out on the pitch for a while after the game out of respect as they received the trophy, then I headed off. I’d had enough of the singing by then!
“We all had a great time at the dinner afterwards mind, a good old night of it.
Wales coach Mike Ruddock parades the Six Nations trophy with hooker Mefin Davies
(Image: David Rogers/Getty Images)
“I hung out with Mike Ruddock that evening. He was the one who gave me my break in rugby when he was coaching Leinster.
“He helped my career at the beginning and I learned a lot from him.
“We are very good friends and if it was going to be any coach beating us that day, I’m glad it was him.”
THE WALES CAPTAIN
The scrum-cap clad Michael Owen lifts the Six Nations trophy along with Gareth Thomas
For Michael Owen, it was the perfect day, with one exception.
Having taking over as Wales skipper from the injured Gareth “Alfie” Thomas midway through the Six Nations, it was his job to go up and receive the trophy after the Ireland game.
That’s where things went awry.
“I made a bit of a mess of it, didn’t I? I left my scrum cap on,” he says.
“If you look at all the photos, there I am with it on.
“Alfie would have done it with much more aplomb!”
So what was the story behind the scrum cap?
“I never used to wear one at the start of my career, but then Mike Griffiths came in as scrummaging coach at Pontypridd,” he explains.
“The scrum was everything for Mike.
“We used to do something like 800 scrums a week in training. We’d have 45 minutes of scrummaging at the end of every session. It was mental.
“I ended up with cauliflower ears as a result, so I started wearing a scrum cap in 2004.
“I had never worn one before, so didn’t know what to do with it after a game.
“I just got in the habit of undoing the strap and leaving it on.
“So there I am lifting the trophy with this black scrum cap on.
“Then I realised this TV reporter (Jill Douglas) was asking me something.
“But because I was wearing the scrum cap I couldn’t hear her, so I’m going ‘What, what did you say’ on live TV.
“It all went wrong.”
Yet it was also to prove a very special moment for the then 24-year-old Owen.
“As I was holding the trophy up with Alfie, I remember looking at my wife Lucy,” he reveals.
“She was sat right in front of us. She was pregnant with our second child at the time and I just remember us smiling at each other.
“We’d been together from a young age and she’d sacrificed a lot and been so supportive of me. So that was a nice moment.”
Owen, who is now director of rugby at Haileybury school in Hertfordshire, also has fond memories of the build-up to the Grand Slam game.
Fans and players celebrate the 2005 Grand Slam win
“There was such a sense of occasion. It just felt like a very special day.
“When it came to giving the team talk, that wasn’t a problem for me.
“I always had stuff to say anyhow, so it was like an extension of that.
“I remember saying how it was an amazing opportunity and for us not to let ourselves down.
“We had come a long way as a group, put in a lot of work and it was just as case of making sure we didn’t have any regrets. It was pretty much as simple as that.”
THE GRECO-ROMAN WRESTLERS
Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara fight on the pitch
Midway through the second-half, the tensions of the day spilled over as opposing locks Robert Sidoli and Paul O’Connell became involved in a dust-up just off the pitch.
“I remember it well,” says Sidoli.
“I had just won a lineout and to counter that Paul came running in, with his head on to my head.
“Whether it was accidental or on purpose I don’t know, but I took a dislike to that and we got involved in an altercation with a few old school punches being thrown.
“Then Paul wrapped me up and we fell to the ground with him on top of me.
“Because I was underneath and annoyed at that head butt, I decided to return the butt he gave to me.
“That got him even more annoyed! So he is trying to get punches in on me and I was grabbing hold to try and nullify him.
“That was the point the cameras came on to us, as we were grappling on the floor.
“On the TV commentary, Brian Moore said we were like Greco Roman wrestlers!
“I just remember us being absolutely knackered as we were pulled apart.
“Nowadays you would be panicking that it could be a yellow card or even a red.
“In the context of the game, that would have been devastating for both teams.
“But the referee, Chris White, gave us an old school telling off and thankfully left it at that.
“Paul and I shook hands and we smiled at each other and got on with the game.
“It had just been the emotion of the occasion spilling over really.
“We have spoken about it many times since over the years, when we’ve talked in the club house after a game.
“It probably gave us as a bit more dialogue than we would have had otherwise. It gave us something to talk about.
“We would both look back and laugh about it.”
Second row Robert Sidoli on the burst during the Slam-sealing win over Ireland
Sidoli now teaches and coaches rugby at Newport High School. With the O’Connell incident preserved for posterity on YouTube, he does find it crops up now and again.
“If ever I’m giving the pupils a lecture about discipline, they bring that up,” he said.
“That’s their comeback.”
So how does he judge that dust-up 14 years on?
“I like to think it was a professional draw,” he declares.
“I won the exchange of punches on our feet, he won the exchange on the floor.
“So it was 1-1, a draw overall!”
THE SLAM-CLINCHING TRY
Kevin Morgan dives in to seal the win over Ireland and the Grand Slam
Kevin Morgan struggles to remember his try which sealed the Slam…and blames that on the post-match celebrations!
Close to the hour mark, the full-back supported a scything Tom Shanklin break and dived over to take Wales out of sight.
For Morgan, it was a career-defining moment and a topic of conversation ever since.
“I do get asked about it a lot, with people saying what did it feel like,” he confirms.
“But the funny thing is I can’t remember the actual moment.
“I know it more from the video footage than actual memories.
“Other people seem to remember it more than I do.
“Maybe I destroyed a few brain cells with the beer I drank that night and the next day!
“We certainly enjoyed ourselves afterwards.
“If I think back, I can’t remember much of the game at all to be honest.
“It’s more what happened before and afterwards that sticks in my mind.
“There was the driving in on the bus with the amount of people on the streets and then celebrating afterwards in the changing room with team-mates and family.”
Morgan, who is now part of Bristol’s conditioning team following a spell working with the Georgian national side, feels his try was symbolic of the way Wales played during the 2005 Championship.
“Scott Johnson always talked about the back line moving with flow and for us not to be static or on our heels,” he reveals.
“If you look at that try, we were all moving together with momentum, which makes it a lot easier to accelerate.
“That whole tournament, the way we played was very rhythmical and smooth.
“For me, the Grand Slam was huge and I was just lucky enough to be the one that scored the final try that sealed it.”
THE MAN WHO DIDN’T GET ON
Wales’ back-row sub Robin Sowden-Taylor missed out in more ways than one that weekend.
He didn’t get on the pitch and, as a result, he then had to play for Cardiff Blues the following day against the Scarlets down at Stradey Park.
That, in turn, meant he couldn’t join in the full celebrations after the Grand Slam clincher, having to have an early night.
And, just to cap things off, the Blues lost to the Scarlets!
“I knew I would be playing the next day unless I had more than 15 minutes off the bench, so I was resigned to that being the case,” he reveals.
“Nowadays, the subs usually all get on, but it wasn’t like that back then and Mike Ruddock was a little bit more stingy putting boys on during that campaign.
Flanker Robin Sowden-Taylor on duty for Wales
(Image: Matt Stewart)
“Nugget (Martyn Williams) was in the form of his life as well, making it that much harder for me to get on.
“I think the bench is the worst place to be for a player during the 80 minutes.
“There was that itching to get on the pitch and be a part of it, especially with an occasion like that.
“In the end, I didn’t get on, which meant I was going to be playing against the Scarlets the next day.
“So not only didn’t I get on the pitch, but I couldn’t have a drink afterwards either!
“When the boys were going into Tiger Tiger or wherever, I was walking through town in my No 1s and back to my uncle’s house in Pontcanna to get to bed early.
“The worst part is we didn’t even get the flipping win the next day!
“It was a bit of an anti-climax.”
But Sowden-Taylor, now a conditioning coach at the Blues, still has fond memories of that Grand Slam campaign.
Gareth Thomas and Danny Grewcock clash during the 2005 Six Nations opener between Wales and England
“It was pretty magical,” he said.
“I won my first cap out in Italy and all my family flew out for that. It was amazing having them there.
“It was great to be involved in that Welsh squad and I’ve got some really good memories.
“I remember we had that song ‘Show Me The Way to Amarillo’ playing on the team bus all the time.
“Gethin Jenkins was in charge of the music and that was his choice of song during that campaign.”
He continued: “The night before the Ireland game, we had a team dinner and Alfie gave a nice talk to all the boys, where he said it had been a privilege to be our captain.
“He was such a big personality and such an influence, even though he was not playing in the final game.
“He gave everyone silver hip flasks with three feathers on them.
“I’ve still got it, along with my Grand Slam medal, which is framed at home.”
THE POST-MATCH PARTY
Let the party begin! Martyn Williams celebrates the Slam.
After parading the trophy to the fans, having their pictures taken out on the pitch and doing their media interviews, the Welsh players then headed off into the night, as Martyn Williams recalls.
“The bus ride to the Hilton for the post-match function was crazy,” said the player of that year’s Six Nations.
“That’s hardly any distance at all, but it seemed to take us forever, with the streets teaming with people.
“We couldn’t get off the bus because there were so many people outside the hotel.
“We had to go through the workman’s entrance, via the back door and through the kitchen. It’s the kind of thing you see in the films with pop stars.
“Even though it was the back entrance, we were still struggling to get in there and the police and security had to make a gateway for us and our wives. It was mental.
“After the dinner, we went on to a private function, which Brains brewers had arranged at their base. No-one else was allowed in there, just the players and their families.
“We eventually got back to the Vale at about midnight and that’s when it got a little bit blurry!
“There was an Irish band playing in the hotel bar and it was ram packed in there. Then Mike Ruddock brought his guitar out and started doing a few numbers.
“Don’t ask me what time I got to bed, but l didn’t get much sleep that night!”
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