At the time of thee 1801 census, Wales had a population of just 587,345, the largest town, Mwerthyr Tydfil, had only 7,705 inhabitants. apart from typical country pursuits and animal blood sports, recreation often consisted of Fives (a crude version of squash), Brando or Brandy (a crude version of Hockey) and Pedestrianism (an early type of athletics).
Football was noted in Dongellau in 1850 and early types of football represented by Shrove Tuesday football games were fairly widespread as they were in England.
The 'Rugby' game was introduced to Wales by returning people who had traveled widely e.g. clergy and students who had studied in various English educational institutions like Rugby, Oxford, Cambridge etc. and Drovers (men who moved cattle from all parts of West Wales during the middle of the nineteenth century - note: Llandovery was the rendezvous for collecting cattle from the surrounding districts as well as much of the west of Wales).
It was also propagated by students studying in Welsh schools where the Rugby rules game had taken a hold e.g. Lampeter College (where Rugby had been introduced by Vice-Principal Rowland Williams around 1850 and, as such, the college makes the claim to have the oldest Rugby football team in Wales albeit a school team). Note: Lampeter Town RFC were also formed around this time were the representatives of Lampeter at the formation of the WRU in 1881.
In September, 1875 the South Wales Football Union was created in Brecon 'with the intention of playing matches with the principal clubs in the West of England and the neighbourhood - rugby rules were the adopted code'.
The selection of the first official Welsh team by Richard Mullock to face England (who had played internationally for a full decade and that had lost only twice in their 17 Tests to that time) at Mr Richardson's Field, Blackheath on 19th February 1881, hastened the formation of what we now know as the Welsh Rugby Union.
Led by the Australian-born, Cambridge University undergraduate James Bevan, Wales were humiliated as England won its first international with Wales by 7 goals, 1 dropped goal and 6 tries to nil or put into modern scoring 82 - 0. To add insult to injury the English refused to play against them the next season due to the one sided nature of the game. Obviously this did much to bolster support and discussion on how the team could be improved.
The Welsh Rugby Union was duly founded at the Castle Hotel, a coaching inn dating from the seventeenth century, Neath on March 12th 1881. Representatives from 11 clubs: Bangor, Brecon, Cardiff, Lampeter, Llandilo, Llandovery, Llanelli, Merthyr, Newport, Pontypool and Swansea were present and a vote was cast by the representatives to form what was then called the Welsh Rugby Football Union. The meeting took place on the same day that Cardiff beat Llanelli in the fourth South Wales Challenge Cup Final in Neath. The historic meeting is commemorated at the Castle Hotel to this day with an array of rugby memorabilia on view in their Centenary Room including the plaques of each of the 11 clubs.
Swansea president Cyril C Chambers, of Swansea Football Club, was elected the first president of the WRFU and Richard Mullock, of Newport, became the first Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. The Welsh Rugby Union was run by Walter Rees from his home in Neath for over 50 years.
Front row; left to right:
|1881 (March)||CC Chambers Esq|
|1881 (September)||Earl of Jersey|
|1885-1906||Sir JTD Llewellyn, Bart|
|1906-1947||HS Lyne Esq, MBE|
|1947-1953||Sir David Rocyn Jones CBE, K St J, DL, JP|
|1953-1954||Ernest Davies Esq, JP|
|1954-1955||WR Thoms Esq, MBE, JP|
|1955-1956||Major TH Vile, MBE, JP|
|1956-1957||Glyn Stephens Esq, JP|
|1957-1958||Enoch H Rees Esq|
|1958-1959||FG Phillips Esq|
|1959-1960||Lt Col PR Howells|
|1960-1961||D Hopkins Thomas Esq|
|1961-1962||DE Davies Esq|
|1962-1963||JW Faull Esq, MBE|
|1963-1964||D Ewart Davies Esq|
|1964-1965||Nathan Rocyn Jones Esq, MD, FRCS|
|1965-1966||David Jones Esq|
|1966-1967||TC Prosser, Esq, BEM|
|1967-1968||Glyn Morgan Esq|
|1968-1969||Ivor E Jones Esq, CBE, JP|
|1969-1970||VC Phelps Esq|
|1970-1971||KM Harris Esq, CBE|
|1971-1972||Rhys E Williams Esq|
|1972-1973||VJ Parfitt Esq, BEM|
|1973-1974||LM Spence Esq MBE|
|1974-1975||HM Bowcott Esq|
|1975-1976||Handel C Rogers Esq|
|1976-1977||Hywel Thomas Esq, TD, LLB|
|1977-1978||T Rowley Jones Esq|
|1978-1979||DJ James, Esq|
|1979-1980||G Roblin Esq|
|1980-1981||Cliff W Jones Esq, OBE, MA|
|1981-1982||OG John Esq, OBE|
|1982-1983||Hermas Evans Esq|
|1983-1984||Eirwyn B Davies Esq|
|1984-1985||Kenneth W Gwilym Esq|
|1985-1986||Alun Thomas Esq|
|1986-1987||Desmond Barnett Esq, JP|
|1987-1988||W George Morgan Esq|
|1988-1989||Myrddin Jones Esq|
|1989-1990||Clive Rowlands Esq, OBE|
|1990-1991||GJ Treharne Esq|
|1991-1992||Ieuan Evans Esq|
|1992-1993||Graham L Tregidon Esq|
|1993-2004||The Right Honourable Sir Tasker Watkins VC, GBE, DL|
|2004-2006||Keith Alun Rowlands|
|2006 (September- November)
|Keith Alun Rowlands
Glanmor S Griffiths
|2007 (October)-||Dennis Gethin|
It wasn't until 1890, at the seventh attempt, that Wales achieved the 'Holy Grail' and finally beat England. A try, then worth one point, by 'Buller' Stadden at Crown Flat, Dewsbury, won the day and the legendary Arthur Gould's team were ready to take the game by storm. The success of the national side was mainly thanks to the 'big four' clubs of Cardiff, Llanelli, Newport and Swansea. For example, Newport lost only seven matches between 1891 and 1895.
The first Triple Crown came in 1893 (Wales' last for 39 years) and was the launch pad for the first 'Golden Era', when Wales dominated the world game. The Maoris, the first touring team in the UK, had been beaten in 1888 and Dave Gallaher's otherwise all-conquering New Zealand 'All Blacks' were beaten 3-0 in 1905 thanks to a try by Teddy Morgan. More than any other in the history of the game, that incredible match, the only fixture lost by the All Blacks, helped to turn rugby union into a game of global interest.
The first Springboks attracted more than 40,000 to St Helen's in 1906 for a game they won 11-0, although the first Australian tourists were defeated 9-6 in Cardiff two years later. Those early years in the 20th century were filled with Welsh victories and world class players. Gould, Gwyn Nicholls, Jehoida Hodges, Willie Llewellyn, Percy Bush, Boxer Harding, Dickie Owen, Billy Trew and the Bancroft's, Billy and Jack, still rate among the greatest players ever produced by Wales.
The first 'Golden Era' included the first Grand Slam by any country and a record winning run of 11 games as Wales remained unbeaten between March 1907 to January 1910 (When Rob Howley's side of 1999 matched that feat they did it in eight months). There were Grand Slams in 1908, 1909 and 1911, Triple Crowns in 1900, 1902, 1905, 1908, 1909 and 1911 and those victories over New Zealand in 1905 and Australia in 1908. Welsh rugby had arrived as a major force in the world game.
The Great War came in 1914 and rugby was suspended for four seasons.
During the twenties, Wales seemed to mirror the industrial recession. Of the 42 matches played, only 17 were won and three drawn. The depression resulted in around half-a-million people leaving Wales to find work elsewhere. Along with them went a host of Welsh rugby internationals to northern England. Rugby League benefited enormously with 37 players defecting during the 20s alone. Between 1923 and 1925, Wales were whitewashed by the other rugby nations and only beat France during that period.
The Welsh team grew along with the economy during the thirties although a further 27 players defected to league. Wales won the Championship for the first time in nine years in 1931 after two tries from Jack Morley against Ireland in Belfast. In January 1933, Wales recorded their first win over England at the new home of English rugby, Twickenham after 23 years of trying. Wales also recorded its second win over the All Blacks (13 - 2) when they visited the Arms Park in 1935.
Jim Lang the Welsh N0.8, kicks the ball back from a line-out.
The 1939-40 season started on 1 September, but was suspended two days later with the declaration of War against Germany. Club matches resumed in September 1945, with capped matches returning in 1947. Wales' first official post-war international was against England. It ended in a 9-6 defeat, but Scotland, France and Ireland were defeated thereafter. Hadyn Tanner was captain in 12 of the 13 games played during the decade.
It was an era when players like Jerry Shea, Ivor Jones, Jack Bassett and Wilf Wooller captured the imagination.
International rugby shut down for much of the Forties because of World War Two and only four players crossed the seven year gap - the incomparable Haydn Tanner, Bunner Travers, Les Manfield and Howard Davies.
Wales wore white shorts for the first time on 15th January, 1949 in a game against England at Cardiff Arms Park having previously worn black.
The Fifties brought Welsh rugby right back to the forefront of the world game with Grand Slams in 1950 and 1952, under the captaincy of John Gwilliam, and a third win over New Zealand in Cardiff in 1953. Bleddyn Williams, Jack Matthews, Cliff Morgan, Roy John, Ken Jones, Billy Williams, Rhys Williams, Bryn Meredith and Clem Thomas became household names and revered opponents across the world while playing for the British & Irish Lions. The Grand Slam of 1950, crowned with a 21-0 win over France in Cardiff, ended a 39 year honours drought.
After Wales' record defeat (24 - 3) in Durban at the hands of the Springboks in 1964, a coaching revolution occurred.
Clive Rowlands' 1965 side won the Triple Crown.
The WRU Coaching Committee, set up in the late fifties, was given the task of improving the quality of coaching and in January 1967, Ray Williams was appointed Coaching Organiser. The first National Coach, former Ebbw Vale and Wales back row man David Nash, was appointed in 1968.
Gareth Edwards made his debut against France in Paris on 1 April 1967 and in 1968, he became the youngest ever Welsh captain at 20 years old.
Clive Rowlands' took over from David Nash as only the second Welsh coach in 1969. Wales won the Triple Crown that year, however, a subsequent tour that year to NZ resulted in two test defeats 19 - 0 & 33 - 12 although games against Australia and Fiji were won
It was 19 years after the success of 1952 before the sixth Grand Slam of 1971 heralded the dawn of the second 'Golden Era'. Players like Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Mervyn Davies, John Taylor, JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and John Dawes emerged to take not only Welsh rugby, but also the British game to the top of the world with some scintillating performances throughout the Seventies.
The 1969 Triple Crown paved the way for the 1971 Grand Slam, which was won by a team widely regarded as the greatest side ever to wear the Welsh jersey. The 'Super Seventies' included Grand Slams in 1971, 1976 and 1978 and Triple Crowns in 1971, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Had the game in Ireland in 1972 not been cancelled, that otherwise undefeated campaign could have ended with another Grand Slam.
There were 11 Welshmen in the victorious 1971 Lions Test side in New Zealand and six Welsh players in the victorious 1974 Lions Test side in South Africa. Other Welsh greats from this era were Phil Bennett, Geoff Wheel, Allan Martin, the Pontypool front row - Charlie Faulkner, Bobby Windsor and Graham Price - and Steve Fenwick.
Nine of the ten matches against England were won, eight of the ten against the Scots and the Irish claimed only one win and a draw in nine outings. France were the only side to rival the Welsh, winning three and drawing one of their ten games.
The Eighties saw the WRU celebrate its 100th anniversary in the 1980-1981 season.
In 1981, JPR Williams made his last Test appearance at the Arms Park and the full back made it 11 wins out of 11 against England in a 21-19 victory. A year later Gwyn Evans equalled the world record with six penalty goals against France before Scotland ended Wales' 27-match unbeaten championship record at the ground.
The Rugby World Cup made its bow in 1987, Richard Moriarty's Welsh side, despite unconvincing wins, topped Pool 2 with maximum points gained from three victories against Ireland, Tonga and Canada. They progressed into the quarter final stages, meeting pool runners-up and home nation rival England.
The first quarter-final saw an ever dominant New Zealand side take on Scotland. They proved too strong for the Scots and won 30-3 in Christchurch, sending the first of the British teams home. France, who had drawn the only non IRFB member in the quarter finals, Fiji, dashed the hopes of the minnows with a 31-16 victory at Eden Park, ensuring that the last stages of the competition would be filled with only board-member nations. Co-hosts Australia staged the remaining two quarter-finals; the home side were 33-15 winners over Ireland, keeping the two host nations in the tournament. Wales, despite entering their match as the underdogs, beat England 3-16 in a truly dismal performance by the old enemy.
Notwithstanding Wales's triumph of entering the semi-finals, their latter-stage match can be described as anything but triumphant. In a truly one-sided affair, the New Zealanders decimated Wales in unstoppable style. In a 49-6 win, in which the Kiwis notched up eight tries, Huw Richards took away one of the lesser 'Rugby World Cup Firsts' awards; the first man to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup match.
Wales then saw the emergence of Jonathan Davies as a world force and a Triple Crown in 1988.
The Nineties saw defections to Rugby League and internecine struggles decimate the national side. Wales' Five Nations was a whitewash in 1990, and then came the 1991 RWC.
Hosts England kicked off the opening match of the contest against defending champions New Zealand on the third of October. The All Blacks won with only a small margin, 18-12, highlighting the way of things to come for a strengthened England side far more confident than the side witnessed four years previously. Three days later Wales made their first appearance of the competition against tournament newcomers Western Samoa.
Wales had returned from a tour to Australia in July 1991; they had lost 63-6 to the Wallabies. Wales's coach Ron Waldron left his post a few weeks before the Rugby World Cup due to ill health, throwing Alan Davies into the hot spot. Wales were a team in disarray.
Still complacent from their third place glory of the inaugural competition in 1987, Wales encountered outsiders Western Samoa at the Cardiff Arms Park. The match is still regarded as one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history, and is one in which the spirit of Rugby World Cup is encapsulated. With brutal tackling, strong attacking play and steely determination, the minnows triumphed over one of the whales of the game with a 16-13 victory. One of the visions for the Rugby World Cup was to widen the game to developing rugby nations; to encompass a wider rugby community. Western Samoa emerged onto the world stage in a blaze of glory, and had diminished Wales's prospects in doing so.
Pool 3 had become a nightmarish place for the Welsh. With the daunting prospects of Argentina and favourites Australia looming ahead, the Wales camp knew that only two wins would secure a place in the last eight, and also knew that this was highly implausible.
Having grasped a 16-7 win against the Argentineans, in a match fraught with nerves and error-strewn play, Wales entered their match with the Australians facing a greater task than scaling Ayres Rock. As to be expected, Wales fell. The Australians completed their second win over a Welsh side in a year 38-3, sending the Welsh out of the tournament and, humiliatingly, into the 32-team qualifying process for RWC 1995.
Australia and surprise outfit Western Samoa progressed from Wales's pool.
Then professionalism entered rugby union for the first time when the former WRU Chairman Vernon Pugh pronounced in Paris in 1995 that the game would be 'open'.
Wales had to qualify for the 1995 RWC along with 44 other teams to guarantee a place in the 16-side tournament. Wales, the only Five Nations country to have to do so, qualified after one-sided, high-scoring games against Portugal and Spain before entering a second qualification phase. Wales won a closer match with Romania 9-16, thanks to a superb try from Ieuan Evans, and a 29-19 victory over Italy in Cardiff put them into the supposedly easier Pool C.
Pool C threw up the most striking result from the pool stages. New Zealand, albeit a second-string team, dominated Japan in a 145-17 rout. This remains the highest score and biggest winning margin in the history of the Rugby World Cup. Inevitably, Japan had an early exit and the All Blacks made the quarter-finals, as did Ireland, who put Wales out of the competition. In another disappointing championship for Wales, despite a 57-10 trouncing of Japan, this was the second successive Rugby World Cup in which Wales made a premature departure. As host nation in four years time the Welsh did not have the anxiety of qualifying to worry about; all apprehension could be instead reserved for the state of Welsh rugby.
Neil Jenkins became the first international player to break the 1,000 points barrier and the biggest transformation of the decade was that of the old Cardiff Arms Park into the Millennium Stadium in time to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
The Arms Park
The traditional home of Welsh Rugby is Cardiff Arms Park which was developed on ground which had previously been the river Taff prior to its re-routing. The Marquis of Bute handed over a swampy meadow behind the Cardiff Arms Hotel, sited in what is now Womanby street.
It was home to international teams since 1884, housing more than 62,000 fans in its pomp.
After 113 years of hosting international rugby, the spiritual home of Welsh rugby, the Arms Park, was torn down, turned around and recreated into one of the most magnificent rugby venues in the world, offering each of its 74,500 customers a seat.
In just two and a half years, and at a cost of more than £120m, the centre piece of the Welsh capital was totally transformed. The Stadium has already established itself as an icon of the modern Wales. Its image has been used as a symbol of a new and vibrant, entrepreneurial and confident Nation. The importance of the Stadium to the economic, social, sporting and cultural development of Cardiff and Wales is significant. No other building in Wales contributes more to the economic benefit of the Nation; no other attraction comes close to matching the 1.3 million visitors each year that come to the Stadium. The sheer scale and diversity of events on its CV ranges from hosting the FA Cup Final to the Heineken Cup Final, Songs of Praise to the Rolling Stones, Wales Rally GB to the Tsunami Relief Concert not withstanding world class international rugby union.
After the appointment of coach Graham Henry Wales started a ten match unbeaten run and this saw him heralded as the 'Great Redeemer.' As host nation of the Rugby World Cup in 1999, Wales reached the quarter-finals of the tournament before losing to eventual Champions Australia.
Wales struggled to make any further progress during the new millennium. Defeats to the likes of Argentina and Ireland in 2001/02 led to Henry's resignation in February 2002, his assistant Steve Hansen took the reigns. Although Wales had some wins in 2003, it has to be said, mainly against lesser opposition.
Wales, on the back of a Wooden Spoon-winning effort in the 2003 Six Nations championship, were drawn in Pool D of the 2003 RWC against the ever-dominant New Zealand, Canada, Italy and Tonga. The All Blacks, second in the IRB World Rankings, were favourites to top the group with a maximum win and points haul. Although ranked second in Pool D Wales, on a run of unpredictable performances and having lost to Italy nine months previously in the opener of the Six Nations, looked unlikely to have a triumphant tournament.
Wales finished second in Pool D after a superb display in the pool stage. In their first Pool match against Canada, Wales were twice reduced to fourteen men. Although the Canadians looked strong in periods of the game, Wales gained five tries and secured a bonus point in doing so. With Canada's only try coming towards the close of the game courtesy of Kevin Tkachuk, and in part due to the depleted Welsh side, the scores closed at 41-10. This impressive, though not explosive, start to the campaign boosted morale within the Welsh camp.
Expected to build on their encouraging start, Steve Hansen's men faced stiff opposition from Tonga in their second Pool D game. Tongan pressure was evident from the start during a game in which Welsh indiscipline and sloppy play dominated. Gareth Cooper gained a fortunate try before the half hour mark but further disappointing play from Wales gifted Pierre Hola a touchdown. Slipshod kicking ensued but the substitution of Martyn Williams saw him score a drop goal, taking the score to 20-10 in favour of the Welsh. A try from Tongan captain Benhur Kivalu reduced the deficit but Williams darted over the line soon after. Tonga scored another try 3 minutes before the whistle which reduced the final score to 27-20. Wales, lucky to have attained the win, had almost certainly knocked Tonga out of the pool stages. Although the wet conditions made play a little uneasy, rain - not an uncommon feature in Wales - could not be blamed for the lacklustre performance.
Wales next met Italy who dominated the first-half territory and scored first from a penalty. Mark Jones went over the line for the opening try soon after and two minutes from half-time Ceri Sweeney broke, supported by Williams and Iestyn Harris, sending Sonny Parker over for a try. With the score at the interval at 20-9, the Azzuri resumed strongly and closed the gap to 5 points. Wales looked dangerous on the attack and a third try came from Dafydd Jones. As Harris converted the Welsh had an unassailable 27-15 lead. Though pressure was retained by both sides in this fraught match, no further scoring followed. Wales had secured a quarter-final place before entering their final Pool D match against New Zealand.
Wales, with a depleted side through injury, met one of the strongest All Black combinations that Kiwi coach John Mitchell could have fielded. Joe Rokocoko thundered over the try line in the second minute yet Welsh pressure was immediately put onto the Kiwis; Mark Taylor gained Wales's first try underneath the posts. Rokocoko added a second and two further tries scored by New Zealand saw them with a comfortable 28-10 lead, with bonus point secured, at the half hour mark. However, Wales fought back with passion. After a tremendous break from Shane Williams, Parker scored Wales's second try. Williams tore through the New Zealand defence again and Colin Charvis touched down just before the break - Wales trailed only 28-24. In this brave Welsh comeback their lead was stretched to 33-37 in the second half but Wales would score no more in the match. Two 5 pointers, a penalty and a converted try saw the New Zealanders conclude the victory. With the final score 53-37, the bravery, vigour and exhilaration that interspersed Welsh play somewhat overshadowed this. The Kiwis received a colossal shock from the Welsh performance, despite their inevitable resurgence. This newfound Welsh confidence would not have gone unnoticed by quarter-final rivals England.
Wales started off the stronger side and had the run of play for the first half. Jonny Wilkinson's missed penalty in the second minute encapsulated England's shaky form. The half time whistle heralded a 10-3 lead to the Welsh, thanks to a try from captain Charvis. A tension-filled second half ensued in which England recaptured their composure. Jason Robinson shredded the once-unyielding Welsh defence, passing to Will Greenwood who scored England's first try, and last of the tournament. Wilkinson easily converted to draw the score level at ten apiece. Two more penalties from Wilkinson sent England into a six point lead and his boot punished the side with a further three penalties taking the score to 25-10 on the 65 minute mark. Despite a seventieth minute try, scored by Martyn Williams and successfully converted, Wales still needed two scores in the final ten minutes. It was too high a mountain a climb. English saviour Wilkinson sealed Wales's fate, and journey home, with a drop kick in the last minute - a mode of scoring that would prove so vital in upcoming matches.
Wales National coach Steve Hansen could not hide his disappointment not to take the team beyond the quarter-final stages. However, he was quick to acknowledge the great strides that Wales had made as a rugby force during the tournament.
Under Mike Ruddock, Wales recorded a breakthrough win against England on Feb. 5th 2005. Wales then went on to beat all comers to take the grand slam in the 6 nations.
A succession of managers/caretakers came and went. Scott Johnson 2006 for 3 games (lost 2, drew 1), Gareth Jenkins had a longer rub during 2006/7 for 20 games (won 6, drew 1 and lost 13), Nigel Davis in 2007 for 1 game (lost) and Robin McBryde for 2 games (won 2).
Not surprisingly then, Wales slumped again during 2006 & 2007 (apart from the highlight of an unexpected win over England).
Wales began their 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign against Canada on September 9th. Staged in Nantes, the Welsh began the encounter in a nervy fashion. Although James Hook steadied the ship somewhat with three early penalties the Canadian abrasive tackling gained them a deserved 17-9 lead at half time; Jamie Cudmore and Craig Culpan powering over the Welsh whitewash. Wales Coach Gareth Jenkins made pivotal substitutions in Gareth Thomas, Colin Charvis and Stephen Jones on fifty minutes as a shock seemed to be on the cards. The cavalry changed the dimension of the match completely. With fresh legs came renewed belief and determination; tries from Sonny Parker and Alun Wyn Jones pushed Wales into the lead with a quarter of the game remaining. Shane Williams, who had made an earlier blunder with the try line at his mercy, made amends with a quick fire double in four minutes whilst Charvis completed the Welsh try-scoring with a late effort.
In THE crunch match of Pool B, Wales hosted Australia at the Millennium Stadium on September 15th. Playing in the first of two Pool B matches at the Millennium Stadium, Wales failed to take advantage of their home crowd as they slumped to a 25-3 half time deficit. Scores from Matt Giteau, Stirling Mortlock and Chris Latham on the stroke of half-time compounded the heavy deficit as the team left the field with shoulders slumped for the interval.
As Wales made their way back down the tunnel and onto the hallowed turf they journeyed towards a twenty-two point fissure looming large up ahead. Yet some smarter decisions led to Australia's advantage being drastically reduced soon after the break thanks to a try-scoring effort from Jonathan Thomas and a penalty from James Hook. Latham secured his brace soon after, ultimately giving the Australians a lead that they were unlikely to relinquish, on Welsh soil or not. The most impressive passage of Welsh play came in the final quarter. Nippy winger Shane Williams crossed the Aussie whitewash with five minutes of play remaining to round off the scores at 32-20. Wales's loss handed Australia a maximum points total of ten, as bonus points had been gained in each match of their campaign thus far, whilst the defeat set-up a must-win clash with Japan five days later again at the home of Welsh rugby.
A plucky Japan entered the clash with Wales after a superb showing against Fiji and with confidence riding high. The Japanese took an early lead with Shotaro Onishi grabbing a fourth minute penalty for the Cherry Blossoms. Alun Wyn Jones powered over the whitewash after ten minutes played to redress the balance of the game; Stephen Jones's conversion took the Welsh into a 7-3 lead. However, yet to stamp their authority on their visitors, Wales again conceded; Kosuke Endo, leaving scorch marks on the field of play, streaked to Wales's line for one of the best breakaway tries of the tournament and pushed his team into an 8-7 lead.
After the initial Japanese onslaught, Wales sought to regain the lead. A penalty from Jones did just this four minutes later, which was immediately followed by a James Hook try; Jones's conversion gave Wales a 17-8 advantage after 25 minutes played. Hooker Rhys Thomas followed suit with a try just after the half hour mark but Japan clawed back another three points through another Onishi penalty. Wales led by 24-11 as the half time break approached but fullback Kevin Morgan gave the scoreboard a more flattering visage with another try on the stroke of the interval, the conversion going awry.
The second half witnessed Wales asserting dominance that fans could have expected in the first period. Scrum half Michael Phillips crossed the whitewash after just two minutes played in the new half whilst wingers Shane Williams and Dafydd James both added scores before a quarter of an hour had passed. Wales were punished by Japan soon after Jones's conversion of the veteran's try as a loose pass from Alun Wyn Jones was intercepted by Hitoshi Ono, the ball finding its way to Hirotoki Onozawa for another superb try. Bryce Robins converted the score, but these were to be the final Japanese points scored in the matches Wales powered to an eleven try victory.
Replacement scrum half Gareth Cooper, making what would be his only appearance in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, next crossed the Japanese line as the game entered the last quarter. He was followed over by Martyn Williams five minutes later, who completed his brace on 74 minutes with Wales's tenth try. Sweeney converted but Shane Williams was to have the final say in the match, grounding the ball on the stroke of full time to celebrate his 50th cap and hand Wales a 72-18 win, which was the largest score and biggest win for Wales in their Rugby World Cup history.
Wales returned to Nantes for their do or die clash with the Fijians. The match, rated as the best Pool game of the entire tournament by the IRB official tournament website, www.rugbyworldcup.com, proved to be one of the best see-saw battles in international rugby, for non-Wales supporters that is.
Wales took an early lead at the Stade de la Beaujoire courtesy of a Stephen Jones penalty goal. However, Welsh fans were in for a rough ride as they witnessed their team concede three tries in the space of a whirlwind ten minutes. Flanker Akapusi Qera gained the first try for Fiji underneath the posts after just a quarter of an hour played after being fed the ball by captain Mosese Rauluni. The ever-reliable boot of Nicky Little effortlessly converted the score. Vilimoni Delasau claimed the next quick-fire try as he gathered his own chip ahead and spectacularly touched the oval ball down over the Welsh line one-handed. Fiji led 12-3 as Little unusually missed the conversion but fired over two quick penalties to push his country into a commanding 18-3 advantage. The Fijian juggernaut continued its pace as lock Kele Leawere claimed the third try of the opening half whilst Little converted once more to give his side a commanding 25-3 lead.
Wales rallied after this devastating opening period that had been dominated by Fijian flair and daring. Alix Popham's try on 34 minutes reduced the deficit a little, with James Hook knocking over the conversion to take Wales into the interval still trailing by fifteen points and looking a premature departure directly in the face.
Wales restarted with more verve on the whistle and were aided with the sin-binning, on the stroke of half-time, of try-scorer Qera after he kneed a Welsh player. The extra man advantage allowed Wales to creep steadily back into the game as they aimed to turnaround their first half fortunes. Shane Williams notched a try five minutes in, his sixth of the tournament having in each pool B game played, and Jones's conversion took Wales to within one converted try of the Fijians. Gareth Thomas scored Wales's next try to mark his century of appearances in the Welsh jersey but the conversion went amiss to keep Fiji ahead by a tantalising two points. Winger Mark Jones crossed to complete Wales's early second half purple patch and as his effort was bettered by Jones Wales were now 29-25 in the lead with less than thirty minutes of the game left.
The fragile four point advantage lasted less than two minutes as Fiji fly half Little secured another penalty. Little edged his team back in front six minutes later as he slotted his sixth effort from eight attempts neatly between the uprights. Fiji led by the narrowest of margins, 29-31 as the game entered the final quarter. Expectant Welsh fans had to wait an agonising thirteen minutes before a further score from their team. Talisman flanker Martyn Williams intercepted a stray Fijian pass to thunder downfield and score what many hoped would be Wales's winning try of the match. The conversion went awry meaning that Wales led only by a four point margin, 34-31. In a nail-biting six remaining minutes Fiji threw everything they could at a tiring Welsh defence, and their attacking resilience finally paid off as prop Graham Dewes scrambled over the Welsh line. Little's conversion, before he was stretchered off field with an injury that would end his World Cup dream, pushed the Fijians into a four point lead at 34-38.
In a desperate attempt to claw their way back Wales valiantly tried everything they could but could not find the elusive try required to put them into the quarter-finals. After suffering woe at the hands of Samoa (previously Western Samoa) in 1991 and 1999, Wales had suffered yet another scarring defeat to a Pacific Island nation during a Rugby World Cup tournament. Whilst Wales took an early flight home and faced the media maelstrom on their return, Fiji advanced to the quarter-final stage of the Rugby World Cup, a feat that they had not achieved since the inaugural competition in 1987.
Warren Gatland, a New Zealander and former All Black, was appointed as Wales' new head coach on 9 November 2007. He had previously been the head coach of Waikato, leading them to success in the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup. Gatland took up the position on 1 December. His first match as coach was Wales' first match in the 2008 Six Nations Championship, against England at Twickenham on 2 February 2008. England, finalists in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, were favourites and led by 13 points at half-time, before Wales fought back to record a 26–19 win, their first at Twickenham since 1988. Wales' next two matches were at home to Scotland and Italy, which Wales won 30–15 and 47–8 respectively. Wales went on to clinch the Triple Crown beating Ireland 16–12 in Dublin and in the final game of the championship,
Wales sealed their Grand Slam by beating France 29–12 at the Millennium Stadium. Wales conceded only two tries in the entire tournament, halving the previous record of four tries conceded by England in both 2002 & 2003.
2009, 2010 & 2011 Wales finished 4th in the 6 Nations and failed to impress against Southern hemisphere opposition.
Now the 2011 World Cup beckons.
- Llandovery RFC website retrieved 7th August, 2011
- History of the WRU www.wru.co.uk retrieved 7th August, 2011
- A history of sport in Wales, Martin Johnes. University of Wales Press. 2005. 0-7083-1946-7
- The Illustrated history of Welsh rugby. J.B.G.Thomas. Pelham books. 1980. 0 7207 1268 8
- Fields of praise David Smith/Gareth Williams. University of Wales Press. 1980. 0 7083 0827 9