Wales can dominate northern hemisphere rugby for years Posted over 12 years ago

The Grand Slam beckons for Wales and so the match against France at the Millennium Stadium will be as much a test of nerves as ability.

I know because I have been there before, in 2005 and 2008. Wales have a number of young players and that will help them. I was far more relaxed before my first Grand Slam match than I was during the build-up to the second.

It was new in 2005 but it was only after we had defeated Ireland in Cardiff that the scale of what we had achieved sunk in. It was Wales’s first Grand Slam for 27 years and the manic public reaction was out of all proportion to what I had expected.

So when we prepared for another Grand Slam match three years later, against France, knowing what to expect made me nervous. I was also one try away from breaking Gareth Thomas’s Wales record and you just wanted the match to start.

Wales deserve to win the Grand Slam. They have been the best team in the tournament and the most consistent. They have overcome the loss of a number of players without any fuss. They have adapted and they have reacted during matches when things have not been going for them.

France are coming to Cardiff on the back of two home matches they failed to win, following up the draw against Ireland with a defeat to England. It should be a banker for Wales, but rugby matches involving France do not work like that: you have to expect the unexpected.

I think it will be very close on Saturday. France have depth and talent and with Philippe Saint-Andre in his first year in charge, they will not lie down. They will throw everything at Wales and they have nothing to lose except the match.

They will be a threat and it is a fixture Wales have not win since 2008. We have a poor record against France in the championship in Cardiff since 1982, just three victories in that time. We have beaten them more times in Paris than we have at the Millennium Stadium in the Six Nations and they seem to like the Welsh capital.

They will face a different Wales team on Saturday, even compared to the one they came up against in the semi-final of the World Cup. It will have a harder edge mentally and it will be strong at a time when in the past Welsh teams have struggled – the last 15 minutes.

It is a period of the game now when Wales have an edge on opponents. I have noticed their staying power in every match of this championship and Wales have overcome six-point deficits in the second-half in both Dublin and Twickenham. To beat Wales, France are going to have to keep going and going.

The difference in Wales is a legacy of last summer’s training camps in Poland, as I have mentioned before. As soon as we returned home, I could detect a difference in the squad.

When we arrived in Poland, I did not know a number of the players. We returned home as mates having gone to hell together in the training camps and survived thanks to the support of each other.

Wales are able to draw on that at the end of matches and in all the years I was involved with the squad, I had never known such mental strength. It is why I believe that Wales will, unlike 2005 and 2008, build on what they have achieved this year.

They have the potential to dominate northern hemisphere rugby for a long time. They have a core of young players, strength in depth, a top management team and some world-class talent.

That is not to say they will win the Grand Slam every year, but success can also be measured in triple crowns and titles and how you get on against the top three teams in the world – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Wales have a three-Test tour to Australia later this year and it will be revealing. I am not saying we will win all the games, but we are reaching the point where we can compete with the best teams mentally and we are as fit as anyone.

I keep being asked whether Wales are missing me. I do not think they are and when you look at the players who cannot get into the side, James Hook, Ryan Jones, Lee Byrne and Scott Williams to name a few, you appreciate how strong Wales have become.

I am enjoying watching them as much as I enjoyed playing for them. And I expect to be celebrating on Saturday night after a hard-fought victory.

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Shane Williams played 87 caps for Wales and 4 for the Lions. He is Wales’ most capped winger and with 58 tries to his name is his country’s leading try scorer; and third on the list of international try scorers. Shane was first selected for Wales in 2000 by Graham Henry though suffered from injury and doubts over his size in his early years in the national side. He recovered from both and was part of the Wales Grand Slam winning sides of 2005 and 2008, and was named IRB Player of the Year in 2008. The diminutive winger became the darling of the Cardiff crowd as he sidestepped his way around the best defences in the world. Shane retired from international rugby in 2011 and will finish his playing career with the Ospreys at the end of the 2012 season.

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