Put down that old 78, this is the record to dance to now

Six Nations 2005: The echoes of a glorious history are finally inspiring a new generation, not weighing them down
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The Independent Online

For the young men among Mike Ruddock's team, it must have been like watching one of those ubiquitous TV adverts as your father grunts approvingly. Hits of the Seventies, with the smooth voice-over "These numbers not available for 27 years".

For the young men among Mike Ruddock's team, it must have been like watching one of those ubiquitous TV adverts as your father grunts approvingly. Hits of the Seventies, with the smooth voice-over "These numbers not available for 27 years".

Only six of today's team were born when the Bennetts, Williams, JPR and JJ, Edwards and the rest were captivating not merely a Welsh nation, but admirers far beyond. Like England's footballing champions of '66, the mythology generated by those teams has been as effective at magnifying the current generation's failings as providing divine inspiration.

Those shadows of history stretch long. But yesterday, the inheritors finally bewitched a nation with their own kind of music: pulsating, fluid, but with an edge, despite the two late Irish tries which meant those old doubts resurfaced for a while. But finally, inevitably, the Tardis of Welsh rugby, encamped for so long in an era of exaggerated sideburns and hair just slightly rebelliously over the collar, has, under Ruddock moved on to 2005.

What is remarkable is that there was no overthrow of the existing order by Ruddock when this former electricity board employee emerged from the backroom and deemed himself largely content with what he had been bequeathed after the post had been four years in New Zealand hands.

The boys of '78 received a tankard, and as one of their number JJ Williams recalls ruefully, "we probably got a jacket as well, but if we did, it didn't fit. They never did." Ruddock's men will reportedly receive £30,000 a man for achieving these five straight victories. Sponsors will fawn upon them.

But professionalism has radically changed the lives and expectations of the sport's élite participants in the intervening period. What would those imposing forwards, Jeff Squire or Bobby Windsor made of a man who insouciantly reveals that he shaves his legs, uses moisturiser and anoints himself in fake tan? OK, Gavin Henson is a centre, but never mind.

But who can deny Henson what some would describe as his "feminine" side, if his masculine one is so potent. And England's young virgin soldier Mathew Tait will attest to that side of his character. That would be the Tait who was thrust disdainfully from the fray in the opening international, and has not played for England since.

The Welsh rugby aficionados recognise this is considerably more than just about Henson, the close friend of chanteuse Charlotte Church and possessing the ego the size of a cathedral, no matter how much he dominates the photographers' lenses.

When did Wales last boast so many genuine box-office names? Men like Shane Williams, whose mighty second-half tackle denied Ireland's Anthony Foley just when he appeared destined to wrest his team back into the contest, or Stephen Jones, whom, if Ruddock had his way would occupy the Lions No 10 vacuum created by Jonny Wilkinson? The fact that they do is testimony in the faith in them shown by Ruddock, and also to the meticulous preparation of fitness coach Andrew Hore and skills coach Scott Johnson. Wales have learned from the methods of Sir Clive Woodward.

In what would always be an irresistible collision between Henson and Brian O'Driscoll - a pair who, in another existence, might be vying for boy band membership - it was a points victory for the former, in both senses, from the moment he kicked Wales first score with a dropped goal.

Before that, it had appeared that when O'Driscoll had raised the stakes before the game by casting doubts about Wales' ability to withstand the "mental challenge", he had touched a pressure point. Wales were concious that with O'Driscoll's brilliant unpredictability and the boot of Irish rugby's human Kicking King, Ronan O'Gara, in tandem Ireland could pose a threat.

It was a dank winter's day when Wales began their campaign with a somewhat nervy triumph over the world champions. In the warmth of spring they completed their task, although Ireland, those false prenders to this crown, contributed to it with some heinous moments of ill-discipline, even from the talisman O'Driscoll.

This may not have been a tournament of conspicuous grandeur - for which France and England must share their responsibility - but Wales seized their opportunity. They have dominated this RSB Six Nations with a flamboyance and an elan not always associated with the Principality in recent years, but epitomised by the regular back three, Kevin Morgan, Shane and Rhys Williams. None of them are over 5ft 10in, and must be placed in the category of small but perfectly formed. But what a contribution they have made to this Wales renaissance.

Although Williams was replaced by Mark Taylor yesterday after failing a late fitness examination, the momentum was undisturbed, and, fittingly, it was Morgan who complete Wales' try-scoring as Ruddock's team completed their acceleration from one of Europe's poorer teams to the best.

Since those days of the seventies, Welsh pessimism has been stockpiled so high that the European Union may have obligated to intervene. But not yesterday. The home supporters brought belief by the container-load, and their players responded to ensure that those seventies wonders can now be consigned to respectful history. After far too long, Wales have new idols to acclaim.

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