Why I'm so proud my countrymen have proved me wrong

Wales Expects 1: The Player's View By Mervyn Davies Former Welsh captain
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The Independent Online

I do not think we will win another Grand Slam... I hope and pray that we do but I just cannot see it. I think we will always be a team who can upset the odds occasionally ... but right here, right now, I view Welsh rugby with a sense of fear and dread.

I do not think we will win another Grand Slam... I hope and pray that we do but I just cannot see it. I think we will always be a team who can upset the odds occasionally ... but right here, right now, I view Welsh rugby with a sense of fear and dread.

When I wrote these words in my autobiography last year I knew they might get me in trouble at some stage. They were heartfelt, almost a challenge to the Welsh team and management, but they also reflected the mood of a rugby- mad nation so down on its luck that it didn't really have two optimistic bones to rub together.

It seemed clear to me then that Wales had become poor relations to the majority of the top rugby playing countries. I went on to write that our only chance was if the pride returned, along with the instinct and adventure of old. But I could still only see us pulling off the occasional shock. However, those virtues have returned in a way I simply found impossible to imagine, and it means we will all be sitting at the Millennium Stadium today daring to dream of a ninth Welsh Grand Slam.

So as someone who has sometimes been biting in his criticism of modern Welsh teams, I'm delighted to be able to warmly congratulate Mike Ruddock and his coaching team for allowing us to dream again. And thank you to the Welsh players for restoring some much needed pride in Welsh rugby. They stand on the verge of greatness.

I see a lot of the same qualities in this Welsh side that the teams of the Seventies possessed. We never knew when we were beaten. We were a stubborn lot who hated losing. That was exactly how the team played in Paris. They were in danger of being sunk without trace in the first half against the French, yet kept their heads and hung on. They struck back brilliantly, took the lead and then dug in their heels at the end.

The way they attack from deep is also reminiscent of how we used to play. They have confidence in their ability to create space and beat players with individual skill. For Gerald Davies read Shane Williams, for Steve Fenwick think Gavin Henson, for Gareth Edwards imagine Dwayne Peel.

Time has been kind to our reputations, probably because of Wales' lack of success, but there is no reason why Gethin Jenkins can't be as revered around the rugby world as Graham Price in the future or Brent Cockbain and Rob Sidoli can't be as successful as Geoff Wheel and Allan Martin. A lot of people have asked me about young Michael Owen at No 8. I certainly wish I had had his handling skills. He is young man who is definitely going places, and I just hope he can become the third Welsh No 8 to skipper a Grand Slam side after John Gwilliam in 1950 and 1952 and myself in 1971.

If he and his team are to succeed then they will need to combine all the qualities they have displayed in their previous four games. This Irish side may be a little bit long in the tooth, but they have a lot of talent. Combine that with their wealth of experience, not to mention the fact they have a Triple Crown and championship to play for, and you've got a hell of a challenge.

Behind the scrum it promises to be a real firecracker of a match. The Welsh back three could meet their match in Geordan Murphy, Girvan Demsey and Denis Hickie, while the battle between the pin-up boys in the middle, Brian O'Driscoll and Henson, could tip the scales one way or the other. A moment of magic from either could be all it needs to send one team home happy. It's going to be that close.

The last Welsh Grand Slam, in 1978, came in the amateur era, whereas the Class of '05 are fully professional. That means their preparation will be totally different. We had a couple of training sessions in the week of the game and then turned up after work at the Angel Hotel on Friday night. Off to the cinema in the evening, a few sandwiches before going to bed and an easy night's sleep.

Saturday morning was always interesting, with friends and family milling around in the hotel foyer and, just as Michael Owen and co will be feeling today, we just couldn't wait for the hours to pass until kick-off.

The team talk was always inspirational, as was the walk from the Angel Hotel to the ground. That was a part of the day I liked most of all. I used to walk with John Taylor, down Westgate Street and then into Quay Street to buy a new jockstrap at the sports shop. Everyone would give us a cheer, or shake our hand, and it really showed you what the game meant to the fans.

As a team we were very much of the people, for the people, and this Welsh team has definitely connected with the fans. That is one of the biggest achievements under Mike Ruddock. The innate Welshness of the side has come to the fore. Whatever the outcome today they have achieved what many thought impossible - to restore pride and credibility to our national sport. There is one step to go and we all hope they can take it.

Mervyn Davies won 38 caps for Wales and captained them to the Grand Slam in 1971