Williams sets the tone and Morgan applies the finish

Wales 32 - Ireland 20
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The Independent Online

Two years after being whitewashed in the Six Nations, Wales turned the wooden spoon into a golden chalice by completing the Grand Slam, their first since 1978.

Two years after being whitewashed in the Six Nations, Wales turned the wooden spoon into a golden chalice by completing the Grand Slam, their first since 1978.

Most of the players representing the principality yesterday hadn't been born when Wales last achieved the trick of beating all comers in the championship. In those distant days it was numerically easier, a Five Nations that had not yet admitted Italy.

Having beaten England, Italy, France and Scotland, Wales did not fall at the fifth and final hurdle here, although Ireland made them work extremely hard in the final quarter, scoring a couple of tries to reduce Wales's handsome lead.

This, though, was Wales's afternoon in the sun and the crowd at this magnificent stadium gave the team the support they deserved. Wales triumphed by two goals, five penalties and a drop goal to two goals and two penalties, thus not only completing the grandest of Slams but in the process denying the Irish their retention of the Triple Crown.

Wales lost their right-wing Rhys Williams to an injury in the warm-up and he was replaced by Mark Taylor. To make matters worse, they fell behind in the second minute when Gethin Jenkins conceded a penalty at a line-out which Ronan O'Gara kicked.

Even though the game was in its infancy, it became clear that Welsh possession was by no means guaranteed at either the line-out or the scrum. They had a chance to level in the fourth minute but Stephen Jones, from a comfortable angle, pushed his kick to the left of the uprights.

Ireland were fortunate not to lose their captain, Brian O'Driscoll, when the centre lost his temper and aimed a deliberate stamp on to the back of the lock Brent Cockbain. Cockbain had tackled O'Driscoll as he was about to kick the ball. Cockbain's fault was in holding on to O'Driscoll's foot after play had stopped, but it did not warrant O'Driscoll's foul reaction. The incident was missed by the referee Chris White but, after consulting a touch judge, he spoke to O'Driscoll and not Cockbain, but Tom Shanklin. The Irishman was extremely lucky to get off scot-free.

Wales drew level after 12 minutes when Henson struck with a drop goal, the ball going over from about 40 yards after taking a deflection off a green jersey.

Ireland's tactics seemed clear - O'Gara would put the ball into touch as often as possible, forcing Wales to undergo the discomfort of yet another line-out. One of the problems with the policy was that O'Gara became predictable, and it backfired in spectacular fashion in the 16th minute.

Standing about 35 yards from his line, the Irish stand-off went for a clearance kick which was charged down by Jenkins, the loose-head prop. Although there wasn't an Irishman in front of him, Jenkins still had work to do. With perfect judgement, he tapped the ball on with his boot and, as it rolled over the Irish line, calmly fell on it for an opportunistic try that came as a huge bonus for Wales.

Five minutes later, when O'Driscoll lost possession and his side conceded a penalty, Henson increased Wales's lead to 10 points, beautifully striking the kick from a metre inside his own half.

Weary of the kicking lark, O'Gara launched a dangerous attack in which O'Driscoll, with an inside pass to Denis Hickie bursting through from the opposite wing with Girvan Dempsey in support, took play to within a yard of the Welsh line. But for a smothering cover tackle by Stephen Jones, Dempsey would have scored.

From the attacking scrum, Ireland lost control, and when Wales swept downfield their reward was a penalty by Stephen Jones, which stretched their lead to 13 points. O'Gara replied in kind seven minutes before the interval, to leave Wales leading 16-6 at the break.

Wales got just the start they needed in the second half when the Irish three-quarters, under pressure, fell offside in front of their own posts and Stephen Jones made no mistake with the straight forward kick to increase his side's lead to 13 points. Wales were now beginning to play with the bravura that they had characterised their play throughout the championship.

Martyn Williams dropped a pass when he had men queuing up outside him inside the Irish 22, but Wales were making light of their deficiencies in the set-piece, particularly when O'Gara kept kicking the ball to Shane Williams, one of the most dangerous players on the pitch. Twice Williams sparked terrific counter-attacks and Wales' reward might have been more than another Stephen Jones penalty, which made the score 22-6.

Ireland got the message, replacing O'Gara with David Humphreys, but as the crowd, enjoying the sunshine, began to cheer Wales home with a chorus of "Bread of Heaven", their heroes responded in brilliant fashion.

First they defended magnificently; there was a desperate last gasp tackle by Martyn Williams on O'Driscoll, followed by a David versus Goliath effort by Shane Williams on Anthony Foley, the little wing forcing the No 8 into touch at the corner flag.

After Robert Sidoli and Paul O'Connell were lectured for a bout of fisticuffs, Wales struck with a lovely try. Shanklin burst through the Irish midfield on a great run, beating Peter Stringer on the inside before linking on the right with the full-back Kevin Morgan, who had the pace to go over untouched. Stephen Jones' conversion put Wales 29-6 up with 23 minutes to go.

Ireland made Wales sweat in the final quarter, Humphreys allowing them to play a far more flexible attacking game. Marcus Horan, who had come on as a replacement in the front row, crashed over for Ireland's first try in the 65th minute and then Humphreys put in a cross kick to the right hand corner, where the full-back Geordan Murphy beat Henson to dive over.

Humphreys converted both, although the tries were interrupted by another penalty from Stephen Jones. From then on Wales, or at least their supporters, were earnestly watching the clock. They deservedly triumphed.

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