The fog lifts and misty eyes look to heaven again

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The Independent Online

So long Gareth, Phil and JPR. Cheers Gerald, Merv, Graham and JJ. Wales will not be needing to drag every moment of glory they can from your blessed memory anymore.

So long Gareth, Phil and JPR. Cheers Gerald, Merv, Graham and JJ. Wales will not be needing to drag every moment of glory they can from your blessed memory anymore.

For now they have Gav, Shane, Gethin and Dwayne. They have Mefin, Adam, Brent and Stephen. They have a few more, too, legends of the people who will not require surnames from this day forward. In fact, the only suffix they will ever need is "Grand Slam champion". And in Wales, there is not a more meaningful or more prestigious moniker than that.

Not after yesterday, a day when the Welsh capital awoke to a blanket of fog, but a day that was ultimately to witness a metaphorical fog being well and truly lifted for a nation who could suddenly see the light again.

In the chapels this morning they will claim it was written, that Ireland could have fielded 30 Brian O'Driscolls and it still would not have been enough to halt Mike Ruddock's men and their inexorable charge to destiny. And from the moment Charlotte Church belted out "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" and gave a cheeky wink to her boyfriend - the silver-booted, golden-handed Gavin Henson - there was a palpable sense that this indeed would be their afternoon.

True, the stadium did fall quiet as the nerves set in during a first half which plainly oozed tension. Fortunately for the Dragonhood, however, this was in no way translated on to the pitch, to the quivering Welshmen who really mattered. When this new Wales feel down, feel the back scraping against the wall, they have a simple solution - they run away from it. And run, and run, and run, and run...

Just ask the Blarney Army who hopped over the Irish sea in such numbers probably feeling they could control the set-piece, and thus the game, at will. But they never quite cottoned on to the fact that here they were fronting up to a team which does not obey the rules of modern rugby. When you expect them to kick they fling it around like the Harlem Globetrotters might a hot potato. When you expect them to run they do just that, but with a vibrancy and an inventiveness that even Scott Johnson, their skills coach, finds impossible to predict.

And then when they eventually look like buckling, when the weight of shouldering such a faltering line-out, such a spluttering scrummage becomes too much, they put their head down and tackle like their lives depend on it. Which, looking down the line as Charlotte sang and their faces contorted with passion, is probably not too far from the truth.

Neither would it be too erroneous to suggest that this was the finest day in Welsh rugby history. That is one mighty statement when you consider the three Grand Slams of the Seventies, of any number of famous victories in what will always be a tearfully recounted past. But 28 years is a long time to wait in modern sport, especially when the paying public are notoriously fickle, and this triumph should not be underestimated. Rugby is the head of Welsh life once more, and now it will take one fearsome shove to shift it.

The eyes of the players said as much when they took the lap of honour, lapping up the hero worship like no Welsh team has ever before. Dwayne Peel's red eyes told of a personal performance that not only sent his name spiralling into three million dreams but also, surely, into Sir Clive Woodward's Lions team.

He was Wales's pulse yesterday - as he has been all championship - keeping them on that favoured front foot with his darting runs and pick-up-and-go philosophy. He has increasingly resembled a proud curate with the keys to a museum of riches who is desperate to open up every hour of every day just to show off. To Stephen Jones, to Henson, to Tom Shanklin, to Shane Williams, to Kevin Morgan, to anyone else who wanted it; the ball was whisked along with breathtaking panache. And then there was Gethin Jenkins.

The 23-year-old prop has long been the best-kept secret in his homeland but the cat fairly sprang out of the bag when he charged down that Ronan O'Gara place kick and propelled that 19st body over the tryline with a turn of pace that must have even taken the Cardiff Blue by surprise. Don't forget that nifty dribble with his right-foot, either, a piece of skill unseen from a man of his size at the Millennium Stadium since... well, since John Hartson last played here. Jenkins, too, must be quite near the forefront of Woodward's plans.

For now, however, the Lions could wait. Cardiff last night was a place to behold, a capital city that had been bubbling with energy ever since England were humbled on the opening day of the Six Nations, but which now fairly frothed over. Painting it red did not begin to describe it.

Outside the City Hall a crowd of approximately 40,000 stood and cheered every move on the big screen and a few more folklores were born. They sang "Is This The Way To Slamarillo?" on what was inevitably termed Henson Hill. Then came "Gwlad All Over". It was the fitting ending to one glorious Welsh day.

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