With two Six Nations Grand Slams in four years, the current Welsh team will go down in the annals of history—but still are short of the glory days of Gareth Edwards illustrious team.
After winning Five Nations championships in 1965 and 1966, Welsh rugby took a backseat to the emergence of France as a world power who won back to back titles for the second time in the 1960’s. However, in 1967, world rugby heralded the arrival of a young 19 year old from Pontardawe, a small welsh town in the Swansea valley.
Scrum Half Gareth Edwards, started his epic career by captaining his team one year later—yet in 1968 even he could not stop the French from recording their first ever Five Nations Grand Slam. The following year, the Welsh defeated England to win the championship and the Triple Crown (victory over all home unions) this being the genesis of the golden era of Welsh rugby.
It was the beginning of legends that some label as the finest rugby team to walk the planet – as well as Edwards himself, no doubt the greatest No. 9 to ever play the game.
In 1970 Wales shared the championship with France, but recorded a 6-6 draw against the mighty Springboks in Cardiff—at the time their best ever result against the Africans.
1971 was considered by some to be the finest year of Welsh rugby history, winning the Five Nations with a Grand Slam and using only 16 players in four games. The same year the renowned British and Irish Lions assembled with Welsh centre John Dawes captaining the side—and the Red Dragons contributing more players than any other team.
With their recent form confidence and belief had begun in the minds of the Welsh players, with Gerald Davies remarking “we actually believed that we could defeat the might of the All Blacks”—whom themselves were in the midst a dominant age.
The Lions won that series 2-1, and to this day remains their only series win over the All Blacks. In 1972 the series was not completed due to “the Troubles” in Ireland. The subsequent year saw the Five Nations record its first and only five way tie—although the Welsh destroyed the Wallabies 24-0 in Cardiff, their greatest victory against the Australians.
In 1975 the Welsh won the Five Nations, and then followed it up the next year with a Grand Slam triumph. Then in 1978 the Wales repeated their heroics with another Grand Slam, at the same time becoming the first home union to record three consecutive Triple Crowns. Following their unprecedented success Phil Bennett and Gareth Edwards retired. Months later the Welsh controversially lost to the All Blacks 13-12, whom went to record their first touring Grand Slam.
1979 saw the Welsh record yet another Five Nations triumph with a Triple Crown, as their age came to an end. With the exception of a shared title with France in 1988—it would be fifteen long years before Wales again claimed a championship crown.
In this distinguished period of the seventies, Wales fielded legendary players such as Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies, centre Ray Gravell, Welsh sprint champion John James Williams, and John Peter Rhys Williams—whom almost became Wales best tennis player before playing rugby.
The Red Dragons in this time won five championship titles, five Triple Crowns and three Grand Slams. They had an 80% winning record against all Five Nations teams over this time; with the exception of France—themselves a brilliant team over this period—but they still won six of ten games against the Tri colours in this time. They recorded 32 wins in this decade, for a 73% overall winning record.
We know the exploits and the players of the current Welsh team. Players such as Shane Williams, Stephen Jones, Martyn Williams and Gavin Henson form a world class team.
We could judge the Welsh on the decade since 2000—but a record of 47 wins and 53 losses does not make for greatness. In 1999 under Graham Henry the Welsh had a sparkling year, defeating England at Wembley to spoil their Five Nations party, beating France in Paris for the first time in 24 years, and recording their only ever victory over the Springboks in 93 years of attempts.
One solid comparison of the current and Welsh side of seventies—world rugby was very strong, as it was then it is now. France, Ireland, and England; despite their issues, can still beat any other Six Nations team, and the All Blacks and Springboks are as overwhelming now as they were then.
So this leads to see who is the stronger of the two Welsh teams. To be fair, this current Welsh side would need to win another Grand Slam or even World Cup in the next four years.
But to really call themselves the greatest, they need to do two things even Gareth Edwards and his lads could not do. Winning back to back Six Nations with Slams would go a long way.
But, of 11 games lost by the great 1970’s side, six defeats were inflicted by the All Blacks—the same number of defeats inflicted by the Men in Black over Wales this millennium.
Overturn history, and beat the top two teams of the world—and then let the comparisons begin.