There is no such thing as an accidental grand slam. Winning five games on the trot in testing conditions against reliably motivated opposition does not merely require skill and nerve but, crucially, rare stamina. Anyone questioning Wales’s status as true five-star champions underestimates the uniquely treacherous climb they have just completed.
Yes, Six Nations slam dunks are more frequent than they used to be but this was widely predicted in advance to be the most dog-eat-dog championship of all time. A supposedly impregnable Ireland had just beaten the All Blacks, England began like a bullet train in Dublin and by half-time in the opening game in Paris Wales were 16-0 down to France. To clamber back up the stairway to heaven from such an inauspicious start takes some doing.
Responding positively under pressure is the hallmark of all consistent winners. Very often the word people use is “cojones” but in Wales these days that is spelt “Jones & co”. Alun Wyn Jones has been the beating heart of this steely Welsh machine: chivvying relentlessly, putting his battered captain’s body on the line, refusing to take maybe for an answer. Massive credit is due to Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards and the rest of the Welsh management but, ultimately, it is their players who have made it happen.
Roof or no roof, Wales proved more ruthless than anyone else when it mattered. Under the Parisian cosh they stood firm and did the same against England in Cardiff. Then, with everything on the line, they had Scotland and Ireland effectively sliced and diced by half-time. Artists may struggle to capture the poetic beauty of this achievement but guess how many second-half points Wales conceded in five games, three of them away from home? The answer is a miserly 26, including the seven late consolation points they permitted the Irish.
Those high-class defensive stats have also now elevated Wales to the unprecedented heights of second in the world rankings. In a World Cup year that is not an insignificant achievement. It does not necessarily mean they will hoist the World Cup in Japan but Gatland’s squad can now dare to dream in a way that would have previously felt unrealistic. England and Ireland, by contrast, can only tip their sodden hats in the direction of Cardiff and reflect on why they ultimately fell short.