Merv the Swerve would have said this was deserved

 

The Millennium Stadium

Mervyn, you feel, would have approved. That wonderful Wales No 8 of the 1970s, Mervyn Davies, who died on Thursday, knew that Grand Slams seldom come easy and the victory yesterday was as hard-fought as any. But now Wales believe they have a side which will, in time, come to bear comparison with those of the famed "decade of the Dragon", of which Davies was so integral a part.

This team of the professional era have matched the achievement of 34 years ago, in that Wales have won three Slams in an eight-season period, in 2005, 2008 and yesterday. Their predecessors won in 1971, 1976 and 1978, every time against France; that 1976 side, who won by six points, was led by Davies in his last international appearance, coming as it did 22 days before he suffered the brain haemorrhage which ended his playing career.

There were haunting moments here, after the minute's silence in which 74,000 paid tribute to Davies and the former New Zealand captain and administrator Jock Hobbs, who also died of cancer last week. The kick-off went straight to Toby Faletau, the successor in the No 8 shirt of Davies; another back-row forward, Ryan Jones, who also wears a head band – like Davies did – could not have given more when he replaced the Wales captain, Sam Warburton, at half-time.

Davies, moreover, came from Swansea and another Swansea boy, Leigh Halfpenny, has been crucial in the winning of this slam. His penalty goal won Wales's first game of the 2012 Six Nations Championship, against Ireland in Dublin, and his steadiness in front of goal has sustained Wales in moments of uncertainty. Here four goals from five, one of them from all of 52 metres, gave Wales the cushion they needed.

This is their 11th slam. Only England, with a vastly superior playing population, have more with 12, of which only one has come in the professional era. The point about this Wales side is how much better they should become. The average age of the side is a little over 24 and there is no reason to suppose that the old hands – Gethin Jenkins and Ryan and Adam Jones, who played in the successes of 2005 and 2008 – should not still be going when the 2015 World Cup comes along.

Perhaps that is the essential difference between the modern Wales and the sides of the 1970s. Jenkins and the two Jones boys are forwards; the trio who played in the three slams of the earlier era, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies and JPR Williams, were backs and they are the ones, known just by their Christian names – like Merv the Swerve – who are so fondly remembered.

Consider, too, the difference between Gerald Davies – was that a tear the great man wiped from his eye as he watched his exultant successors from the WRU committee box? – and George North and Alex Cuthbert. The size of the modern wing (both men are over 6ft 4in and 16st-plus) makes the 5ft 8 and a half and 11st 8lb Davies seem even more diminutive. But what he and his peers lacked in stature they made up for with skill.

The current Wales back division has been described by another former captain turned commentator, Gwyn Jones, as "brutal" – by which he means their size and confrontational style. Rhys Priestland, the fly-half, is a genuine footballer who has not been able to find his best form in this championship but given the voracious nature of modern defences – and France yesterday were no exception – opportunities in open play are few and far between.

It is a remarkable statistic that, of the 11 Welsh Slams, seven have been decided against France. Yesterday's Western Mail compared yesterday's starting XV with that of 1978 and concluded that nine of the old timers held the whip hand over the present generation.

"It would be interesting to see the team of the 1970s playing South Africa and New Zealand regularly, which we aspire to do," Warren Gatland, the head coach, said. "We're not at that level yet but our aim is to beat the southern-hemisphere sides on a consistent basis. We have a young enough side to be able to do that over the next few years."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing