On 19 March 2005, Wales ended a prolonged period in the rugby wilderness by winning the Grand Slam. They had waited long enough for the victory - 27 painful years. Grand Slam! first and foremost celebrates the 2005 victory in the Year of the Dragon. It also charts those lean times from 1979 onwards, when Welsh rugby plummeted from the glorious pinnacle of the 1970s and the national sport hit rock bottom. It takes a hard look at a barren spell of the '80s and '90s, when they were humiliated and vilified, and then recounts how the jeers turned to cheers. The Welsh Rugby Union tried everything to recapture the glory years of the 1970s, but as well as running through a succession of coaches they had to cope with the impact of professionalism. Grand Slam! casts a look back at the way the game was repeatedly rejigged at club level in a bid to rediscover the production line that had provided a string of great talent in every position. It examines the various tweakings of the league system and recalls how the latest fitness methods were adopted. For so long, nothing seemed to work but then in desperation, the WRU turned to the man who was to be dubbed the 'Great Redeemer', Graham Henry.
And, finally, he did manage to turn things around, helping them to forge a record-breaking run. Henry was followed by his disciple, and assistant, Steve Hansen, and Wales began to string together more and more solid performances, culminating in the breathtaking Rugby World Cup tie against the All Blacks in 2003. But Hansen departed before the nucleus of his squad was able to attain the dizzying heights of the northern hemisphere's highest honour, the Grand Slam, under Welsh coach Mike Ruddock, whose side not only won but also played some of the most dazzling rugby seen in the championship for years. Grand Slam! considers the impact of the victory on Wales and asks whether the achievement will lead to a stirring of national consciousness. It is a story that will be told and re-told in clubhouses and pubs all over Wales for years to come.
Paul Rees writes on rugby for The Guardian. He has reported on Wales since 1986 and is the co-author of Allan Bateman and On the Attack and Life At Number 10,