Wales versus Ireland in Cardiff. One team vying for a Grand Slam, the defending champions standing in their way. An epic Six Nations finale lies in wait. And weve been here before.
The state of play at the Principality Stadium on Saturday will be as it was 10 years ago. The difference between now and 2009 is that the roles will be reversed.
This weekend, Wales are bidding for a first Grand Slam since 2012, taking on an Irish side who managed the feat last year and still have hope of retaining their Six Nations title.
A decade ago, it was the other way round. Ireland were looking to end a 61-year wait for a Grand Slam, faced with a Welsh team who had completed the clean sweep 12 months earlier but needed to beat their opponents by 13 points or more to retain their crown.
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Principality Stadium roof to be left open despite yellow weather warnings as Wales host Ireland
For Wales, winning a third title in five would have been significant enough. Denying their Irish rivals a historic moment of glory would have made it all the sweeter.
A 21st-century Welsh player cant escape the traditions they pull on with their jersey, Sheers wrote. Their minds might be occupied with video analysis, nutrition, team policy, tactics and preparation, but however diffuse the hinterland of Welsh rugbys earliest days might be, its still part of what fuels the modern player, even those who play with individuals rather than a nation in mind, those who take the field for grandfathers, mothers, coaches, who helped them on their way, those individuals will all, in some way, have embodied the national ethos of the game. Its never just a country that runs out on to this pitch at the Millennium Stadium, but a culture, a way of being.
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But did the Celtic cousins not stick together? Not as far as Wales head coach Warren Gatland was concerned.
“Probably, out of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most,” he said before their 2009 clash.
Gatland did not always feel that way. In Calon, a book about Welsh rugby, Owen Sheers wrote about Gatland worrying the fans would turn on the team. For some reason, the Welsh fans love the agony of their support as much as the ecstasy; that after the pleasure they seem to crave the pain. And that is why his biggest fear is still the thought that one day, as this bus drives into town, the crowd spread through the streets before them might turn. That one day, as they make this slow drive in towards the stadium, it might not be cheers that fill the air, but boos.
On the field at least, the enmity was mutual, as Irelands blindside flanker that day, Stephen Ferris, explains.
“Off the pitch the lads get on so well, like on the 2009 Lions tour. Andy Powell, Mike Phillips, Shane Williams, James Hook – theyre all really good lads and we had a really good bond,” Ferris says.
It took less than a minute for Donncha OCallaghan to spark the first scuffle with Ryan Jones, while Ian Gough floored Jerry Flannery with a shuddering hit.
“If anyone ever says dive on a loose ball, dont. Just stick your foot in there like Martyn Williams,” Ferris recalls with a laugh, albeit still with a little wince.
Wales is being battered by Storm Gareth this weekend, but even though the weather forecast is set to be grim for the match, Ireland have requested that the lid is taken off the Cardiff stadium.
“His foot caught my finger and I had a compound dislocation. I remember waving at [referee] Wayne Barnes and saying My fingers sticking out but he just waved play on.
“I got stitched up and was about to get back on but the doctors said there was a risk of getting an infection, so they didnt let me back on and I just burst into tears.
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“I stayed in the changing room feeling sorry for myself for a bit but then I got back out and got behind the lads.”
It was an animated Irish bench watching on during an engrossing, tight encounter, which Wales led 6-0 at half-time thanks to two penalties from Stephen Jones.
Ireland did not panic. They started the second half purposefully, immediately pinning Wales back with a period of concerted pressure.
Wave upon wave of attacking phases eventually led to the opening try, from a familiar source but in unfamiliar fashion as their talismanic centre Brian ODriscoll – more renowned for virtuoso solo scores – burrowed his way over the line like a gnarly old prop.
From a scrum 10 metres inside the visitors half, Ronan OGara delicately clipped a kick out to the right, towards Irelands onrushing wing, Tommy Bowe.
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“Luckily enough, it bounced between Shane [Williams] and Gav [Henson], and I was able to just snatch it and make it between the posts. There was a great bunch of Irish supporters there.
It was a finish befitting a match of this magnitude; beating a wing as quick as Williams for pace was no mean feat.
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That Williams and Henson were both team-mates of Bowes at Welsh regional side Ospreys made the score even better.
Wales were not going to relinquish their Six Nations title lightly and another two Jones penalties brought them to within two points of their opponents.
Then, with only five minutes left, Jones struck a drop-goal to put the hosts back in front and set up a nerve-shredding finish.
“I can safely say Ive never been involved in such an emotional and dramatic last five minutes,” Jones said in the immediate aftermath.
The Welsh fly-half epitomised the games wild swings in momentum as much as anybody. Seconds after putting his side 15-14 up, Jones misplaced a clearance straight into touch and handed Ireland a prime attacking platform in their opponents 22.
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Double deflation for Wales if they lose to Ireland and blow Grand Slam
They exploited that lapse with another assault on the Welsh line, setting up OGara for a drop-goal of his own, which he stroked over to prompt a huge roar from the Irish contingent in Cardiff.
“Every time we played Ireland, before the game wed talk about Ronan OGara because he was a special player,” recalls Shane Williams, who could only watch from the left wing as the kick sailed over.
As soon as you do youre on a downward slope. Obviously you dont want to get too complacent, too up yourself, but if you keep your feet and the ground and work hard and have a winning mentality youll be alright.
Principality roof to remain open for Cardiff showdown
“You could target him [in defence] but, with ball in hand, you knew he could kick it from anywhere on the field. So for him to do that, he was a hero for Ireland.
With only a little over two minutes left on the clock, Ireland seemed to have finally secured that elusive Grand Slam.
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Wales regained possession from the restart but struggled to force their way into Irelands half and penalty range.
But then as the match entered its final 60 seconds, Irish replacement Paddy Wallace – who had only been on the field for three minutes – entered a ruck from the side and conceded a penalty.
“The only thing I can compare it to was being in a car crash – which I had experienced before – and the numbness I got after the incident.
Henson would usually have stepped up from such a distance but, after missing a kick from the halfway line earlier, the Ospreys centre had supposedly complained of back pain and left the penalty for Jones.
“I was happy to take it, fatigued though I was, because I knew it was in my range,” Jones said at the time.
This would be the final action of the match, and the British and Irish Lion struck the ball well – but not well enough.
It fell just short and into the arms of another Irish replacement, Geordan Murphy, who gleefully kicked the ball into touch to end the game.
Ireland were euphoric and yet, even as they celebrated such a momentous achievement, their match-winner OGara sought out his opposite number Jones for a commiserating embrace.
“I experienced the whole range of emotions from when my drop-goal went over right up to the final kick to win the game. It was mad,” said Jones.
Even if Jones penalty had gone over, Ireland would have won the title on points difference – but this was a case of all or nothing.
As their captain and man of the match ODriscoll said afterwards, anything other than a Grand Slam would have been “heartbreak”.
An exhausted puff of his cheeks and raising of his arms at the final whistle said as much, embodying his nations sense of catharsis after 61 years of hurt.
And this Saturday it will be Wales – on a record 13-match winning run – aiming to clinch their first clean sweep since 2012.
Williams was a member of Wales Grand Slam-winning sides of 2005 and 2008, the first of which was secured with victory over Ireland in Cardiff on the final weekend.
But having also played in the tumultuous defeat of 2009, he knows better than most why Wales must be wary of Ireland this weekend.
“They also still have a chance of winning the competition. Ireland were disappointed with the way they started, losing to England, particularly after beating New Zealand in the autumn.