It is Wales vs Ireland at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday 16th March. The penultimate game of the 2019 Six Nations Championship. And the Wales team has the opportunity of creating history. By beating Ireland, Wales will secure their 4th Grand Slam of the Six Nations era. Their third under the Gatland coaching team of Gatland, Edwards and Howley. Their 12th of all time. Only one less than England.
And I’ve got a ticket.
The Wales vs Ireland Six Nations decider takes place in the best rugby (and possibly football) stadium in the world – The Principality or, as we all remember it, the Millennium Stadium. With Saturday’s weather forecast predicting rain, we hope Ireland agree to have the roof closed. Although I doubt it. Whether closed or open, the atmosphere inside the stadium is expected to be electric. The noise deafening. This is rugby theatre of the highest calibre.
Since setting up my photography business in 2013, I have not had a chance to go to a Six Nations test match in Cardiff. I am usually working, photographing my rugby heroes at one of the Legends Hospitality pre-match rugby lunches.
- Robert Jones;
- Alix Popham and Rory Lawson;
- Emyr Lewis and James Hook;
- JPR Williams and David Duckham;
I am still photographing a Legends Hospitality rugby lunch on Saturday with Wales and British Lions legendary winger JJ Williams and ex Irish international Mick Quinn., However, this time I will also be going to the Wales vs Ireland game with my Dad and a group of close friends.
And I am excited.
Watching Grand Slams
Looking back, I have been incredibly lucky to say ‘I was there’ when Wales won their Grand Slams of 2005, 2008 and 2012. Three truly unforgettable occasions. Each time I shared the amazing experience with my Dad and close friends.
I remember Gethin Jenkins charging down Ronan O’Gara’s kick and scoring a try in 2005. Mike Ruddock’s Wales beat the men in green 32-20. Long after the final whistle the stadium remained nearly full. After several rounds of Delilah, Max Boyce appeared from nowhere and performed some of his best loved songs from the middle of the pitch. It was carnival time in Cardiff. I recall being totally exhausted from the emotion of the day. The week-long build up, full of anticipation and doubt. I sat slumped in the corner of the bar in the Thistle Hotel in Cardiff with a mad smile engraved on my face. The doubts but a distant memory after Wales had secured their first Grand Slam since 1978.
There was a different sort of excitement in 2008. Gatland’s new coaching team had turned the side into a Shaun Edwards designed defensive brick wall. But with the magical Shane Williams to cut defences to shreds. He scored 6 tries in 5 games and was crowned ‘player of the tournament’. As always, I wracked with nerves for the whole week leading up to the game. France stood between Wales and a second Grand Slam in 4 years. I recall the relief when Martyn Williams broke away from a ruck on the 22 and scored the try that sealed the win. Wales 29 France 12. My Dad and I hugged and cried happy tears.
In the blink of an eye we returned for another Grand Slam decider in 2012. This time I was at the game with my Dad and son, Tom. The Gatland coaching team had moulded a very good Wales team led by Sam Warburton. France once again stood between Wales and the Grand Slam. France played better than at any time in the tournament. But they couldn’t stop giant wing, Alex Cuthbert from slicing through the defence to score the only try of the game. Wales won 16-9 and secured their 11th Grand Slam.
So I have been lucky enough to see 3 of the 11 Grand Slams won by Wales. And on Saturday, I will be in the stadium to hopefully see my 4th.
The excitement in Wales is bubbling nicely in the week leading up the Wales vs Ireland test match. Everyone is talking about the game. When shopping on Sunday morning, I spent five minutes talking to the lady at the checkout about the Ireland game. It will be the main topic of conversation in every shop, pub and bus stop. The possible Grand Slam will dominate the media. There is nothing else like it.
As Saturday looms, so the nerves will kick in. The game will be on my mind most of the time. I will struggle to concentrate on things that are far more important.
But it is Ireland who stand in the way of history. The strong, organised, uncompromising green shirts of Ireland who will be desperate to spoil the Welsh party and have a chance of retaining the Six Nations trophy.
And, for that final game in Cardiff, as Wales take on Ireland, I am so excited to say that ‘I have a ticket’.
Paul Fears is a commercial, industrial, events and wedding photographer based in South Wales and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.