On Henson Hill, a nation erupts with the roar of 100,000 dragons

Gavin Henson is to Welsh rugby what Tim Henman is to British tennis. But there is a subtle difference: his supporters on the hill had the thrill of seeing him win
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The Independent Online

With a roar that must have been heard across the Bristol Channel, and very possibly the English one as well, tens of thousands greeting their side's Grand Slam victory turned an ordinary square in Cardiff into a place of raucous national celebration. If they'd been in the stadium, they'd have taken the paint off the stands.

With a roar that must have been heard across the Bristol Channel, and very possibly the English one as well, tens of thousands greeting their side's Grand Slam victory turned an ordinary square in Cardiff into a place of raucous national celebration. If they'd been in the stadium, they'd have taken the paint off the stands.

They were, instead, in what became for the day Henson Hill, a people's piazza of enthusiasm named for the Welsh star and equipped with giant screen like its forerunner, Henman Hill at Wimbledon.

But the squeaky shrills produced there were as nothing compared to the full-blooded fervour worked up here. Hours before a ball was kicked, the place was packed. Young families with toddlers on their fathers' shoulders worked their way deeper into the throng searching for the perfect vantage point. Agile young men clambered up lamp-posts, clinging on with one hand, taking pictures of the massive crowds with the other.

Everywhere you looked everyone was in red, which was appropriate because that was the colour they intended later painting the town - all part of an estimated £30m one-day Cardiff spending spree. By the middle of the evening, crowds were spreading joy all over the place. In a fulfilment of the old cliché, they were indeed dancing in the streets of Cardiff - and Swansea, Newport, Neath, in fact anywhere in Wales that had streets. Even on the prom at Aberystwyth.

The last time Wales scaled these heights was in 1978, and some have seen significance as that was the year before Margaret Thatcher came to power, and the decline in heavy industry that followed.

But, for all the working-class traditions of Welsh rugby, the debt it owed to the brawn fostered by mines and steelworks was already a thing of the past by the 1970s.

On Henson Hill, newer types were in evidence: young women clad for the mother of all nights out, and men with Henson-style gelled hair that positively glinted in the sun. They oohed, aahed and willed the ball over bar and line, and their reward is the boast that a nation of 2.9 million people had, in a season, beaten five others with a combined population of 178 million.

This title represents not a revival of the old Wales, but a consecration of the new one. Job creation is double the UK average; Cardiff's docks are one of Europe's prime waterfronts, and the Millennium Stadium is an unqualified success. Friday saw a visit from Tony Blair, sure sign of a bandwagon with no shortage of passengers.

The focus of much of this enthusiasm is captain Gavin Henson - the gelled son of a roofer who shaves his legs, wears silver boots and who walks out with Charlotte Church, singer-turned-binge-drinker. She sang the anthem at the match, and was one of a valley of Welsh celebrities hailing the win. Weather presenter Siân Lloyd said: "There's a real sense of pride and confidence amongst the Welsh now. I grew up in Neath where rugby was a religion. I went to a bilingual school where a boy once turned up with a football and was sent home."

John Humphrys, as is his wont, was more abrasive. "This whole talk of a Welsh renaissance is nonsense. The Welsh don't need a renaissance and they never have done. They've got a great coach, a great team and they're finally excelling at a game they've always been brilliant at."

The Taffia: top 10 on the Welsh hip list

Charlotte Church

Voice of an angel, right hook of a heavyweight champ. The former child superstar has had a shaky transition to full-blown celeb. Now more famous for falling out of Cardiff nightclubs.

Catherine Zeta-Jones

Marriage to Michael Douglas shot the actress on to the Hollywood A-list. Accepted her 2003 Oscarwith a shout to her mates in Swansea and a chant of "Oggy, oggy, oggy! Oi! Oi! Oi!"

Rhys Ifans

Despite taking on serious roles in recent films such as Enduring Love he is still known - and will always be known - as that guy in his grey Y-fronts in the film Notting Hill.

Cerys Matthews

Found fame in the late 1990s as lead singer of Britpop band Catatonia. Lyrics included "Every day when I wake up I thank the Lord I'm Welsh". Now settled in Nashville, Tennessee.

Goldie Lookin' Chain

Rappers whose songs include "Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do" and "Your Mother's Got a Penis". Invented the "Chavalier" by decorating a Vauxhall Cavalier in Burberry check.

Ioan Gruffudd

There has already been one Welsh James Bond (Timothy Dalton was born in Colwyn Bay), but Gruffudd is one of the actors rumoured to take over from Pierce Brosnan.

Rob Brydon

Comedy compadre of Steve Coogan, he is best known as Keith Barret, minicab driver and star of The Keith Barret Show, talking to celebrity couples about their marriages.

Siân Lloyd

Weather presenter Lloyd is engaged to Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik. She can commute between Wales and London faster than most now that Opik, a pilot, has decided to fly everywhere.

Manic Street Preachers

Socialist rock band whosesingles arrived in the late 1990s. Lead singer James Dean Bradfield was last year voted one of the greatest Welsh people.

Tom Jones

Still churning out new music 40 years after "It's Not Unusual". Turns 65 this year and has grown a nifty goatee. Now living in LA, Jones pops home for the odd pint in Pontypridd.

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