The manner of Wales’ Grand Slam success in last year’s Six Nations was nothing short of remarkable. It was Warren Gatland’s last campaign as head coach, following the news four years previous that he would step down after the Rugby World Cup in Japan, and under the experienced head of captain Alun Wyn Jones, the Dragons put in some dogged displays to secure victory. It was Wales’ first Grand Slam title since 2012 and Gatland made history in becoming the first coach in the (Five and) Six Nations era to secure a hat-trick of Grand Slam titles.
While the latest Six Nations odds from Paddy Power aren’t in Wales’ favour to win the Championship this year, having won and lost their opening two games against Italy and Ireland respectively, they’ve been in this position before and will no doubt be confident of their chances – this time under new head coach Wayne Pivac.
During the 2013 campaign, they lost their opening game to Ireland at the Millennium Stadium, before beating France in round two, and went on to win all of their remaining fixtures to secure the Championship.
After a dominant display in Rome, where they beat the regular recipients of the wooden spoon, 26-9, they continued on their travels. Victory over Scotland at Murrayfield marked a fifth successive away win for Wales, a national and Six Nations record. They finished up with a rampant performance against an England side who were set to win the Grand Slam, with four wins already under their belt. Not only crushing the Red Roses’ dreams but romping to victory by a scoreline of 30-3 – marking their biggest ever win over England in the process.
The resilience they showed to come back from defeat in round one will no doubt stand them in good stead this year, as Wales look to return to winning ways at the weekend against France. While home advantage will play its part, France are currently unbeaten this campaign, under a new head coach, captain and a young and inexperienced squad. Fabien Galthié has placed his trust in his newly-formed group and it’s a move that looks to have paid off so far, silencing the critics too.
In last year’s tournament, Wales famously mounted a comeback against the French in Paris. Trailing 16-0 at half time, they went on to win 24-19, courtesy of three tries and a Dan Biggar penalty. Wales will be hoping their fly-half is fit again for the weekend, but will also have that sense of belief that 2019’s triumph can carry them through.
It will be a strong test of their mettle, and no doubt Dragons’ coach Pivac will harvest the changes, following defeat to Ireland – but the camp remains positive. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny was a member of the 2013 Championship winning squad and believes the class of 2020 can emulate that feat seven years ago.
“We did it in 2013 after losing our first game at home to Ireland and winning the rest,” he said. “It is not all over. We are still in the hunt and have to focus game by game.”