The Wales national rugby union team (also referred to as the Welsh rugby union team) represent Wales in international rugby union. They compete in the Rugby World Cup and annually in the Six Nations Championship. They are governed by the Welsh rugby union, and first played in 1881 (against England).
Wales have won the Six Nations 23 times, the last being in 2005. Their best result in the Rugby World Cup is third, which they achieved in 1987. They also hosted the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Welsh players are eligible to play for the British and Irish Lions.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) regard Wales as a Tier One rugby nation. In particular, several Welsh players of the 1970s are acknowledged as some of the best in the game's history. Although several poor results in the late 1980s and 1990s hurt the teams reputation, a resurgence in form in the 2000s and a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2005 has helped reverse that. Due to this success, Wales became the first team ever to win the Grand Slam while playing more matches away than at home.
Early years (1881 - 1919)
Rugby union took root in Wales when Reverend Rowland Williams became Vice-Principal and introduced the sport to St David's College, Lampeter, in 1850. The first Welsh club, Neath was formed in 1871, and in 1881 Wales played their first international; against England on February 19 which England won by seven goals, one drop goal and six tries to nil. Soon after the match on 12 March that year the Welsh Rugby Union was formed at The Castle Hotel, Neath. Two years later the Home International Championship was first played and Wales did not register a win.
However, rugby union in Wales quickly developed, and by the 1890s the four three-quarters formation had been developed in Wales. This formation with seven backs, and eight forwards instead of six backs and nine forwards revolutionised the sport, and was eventually adopted nearly universally at international and club level. With the "four three-quarter" formation Wales became Home International Championships for the first time in 1893; in the process winning the triple crown. Wales next won the Championship in 1900, and this began the first Golden Age of Welsh rugby which lasted until 1911. They won two more triple crowns in 1902 and 1905, and were runners up in 1901, 1903 and 1904.
In late 1905 they played their first Test against opposition from outside the Home Nations when they faced New Zealand (the All Blacks) at Cardiff Arms Park. New Zealand, later known as the Original All Blacks, were undefeated on their tour of the British Isles, and had already defeated England, Ireland and Scotland in three Tests before facing Wales. In response to the All Blacks' haka (a Maori posture dance) that they performed before their matches, the 47,000 strong crowd sung the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of Our Fathers). This was the first time a national anthem had been sung before a sporting fixture. Wales' winger Teddy Morgan scored first to give Wales a 30 lead, but later in the match All Black Bob Deans claimed to have scored a try, only to be dragged behind the line before the referee could arrive. The referee ruled a scrum to Wales, and the score did not change; Wales winning 30. The loss was the All Blacks only loss on their 35 match tour.
Wales again won the International Championship in 1906, and then played South Africa (known as the Springboks) for the first time that year. Wales were expected to defeat the South African's but instead South Africa dominated in the forwards and eventually won 110. Two years later on 12 December 1908 Wales played Australia (the Wallabies) fort the first time; defeating them 96.
They won the 1909 International Championship, and then the first ever Five Nations (that included France) in 1910. In 1911 Wales earned the first official Grand Slam by winning all their matches in the Five Nations; they would wait nearly forty years for a second. The Great War came in 1914 and rugby was suspended for four seasons.
Post-war years (1920 - 1969)
The post-World War I years saw a big change in Welsh rugby union. Their worst period in international rugby union was during the 20s when the rugby union side seemed to mirror the industrial recession, which was felt particularly hard in South Wales. Of the 42 matches played, only 17 were won and three drawn. The depression resulted in around half-a-million people leaving Wales to find work elsewhere, along with them went a host of Welsh rugby union internationals to rugby league. Between 1923 and 1925, Wales were whitewashed by the other rugby union nations and only managed to beat France during that time.
A resurgence of both economy and rugby union followed as in 1931 Wales won their first championship for nine years and in 1933, captained by Watcyn Thomas, beat England at Twickenham for the first time. In 1935 Wales beat the touring All Blacks by 13 points to 12, with Haydn Tanner making his first appearance.
After a seven-year gap during the Second World War, Wales again suffered several uninspiring years before winning Grand Slams in 1950 and 1952, followed by a 13-8 win over the touring All Blacks in 1953. It was during these years that the Cardiff Arms Park was officially adopted as the home of Welsh Rugby Union. Notable players in the 1950s included Cliff Morgan and R.H. Williams.
As the demise of heavy industry continued in the sixties, the Welsh team began to rely less on coal miners and steel workers and more on teachers. After Wales' record defeat in Durban at the hands of the Springboks in 1964, the coaching revolution began. The WRU Coaching Committee, set up in the late fifties, was given the task of improving the quality of coaching and in January 1967, Ray Williams was appointed Coaching Organiser. The first National Coach, former Ebbw Vale and Wales back row man David Nash, was appointed in 1967 but lasted only four games before resigning. Gareth Edwards made a promising debut against France in Paris on April 1, 1967; he would become Wales' youngest captain, at only 20 years old. He was captain when Wales won the Triple Crown in 1969, ushering in Wales's second "Golden Age".
Second 'Golden Age' (1969 - 1982)
The Welsh team of the 1970s has gone down in history as quite possibly the best of all time. Great in the Northern Hemisphere and victors against touring Southern Hemisphere sides, the team's record speaks for itself. Nine of the ten matches against England were won, eight of the ten against the Scots, and the Irish claimed only one win and a draw in nine outings. France was the only side to rival the Welsh, winning three and drawing one of their ten games. By the time England had been put to the sword on 17 March 1979, Wales had won the Five Nations title five times, done the Grand Slam three times, picked up five Triple Crowns and beaten Australia twice. Only an outstanding French side prevented them from dominating even further. That great Welsh team included legends such as Barry John, Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams, Mervyn Davies and Phil Bennett.
Clive Rowlands was national team coach for 29 matches between 1968 and 1974. This was a successful period for Wales, including a Grand Slam in 1971. The 1971 game against Scotland at Murrayfield was one of the greatest and most exciting ever played there, Wales won 19-18 thanks to a last-minute conversion from the touchline by John Taylor; immortalised as "the greatest conversion since Saint Paul".
In the 1972 Five Nations Championship Wales and Scotland refused to travel to Dublin at the height of the Troubles after receiving threats, purportedly from the IRA. The Championship remained unresolved with Wales and Ireland unbeaten.
John Dawes was coach of the Welsh national side from 1974 until 1979. During this time Wales won the Five Nations Championship four times including two Grand Slams. John Lloyd was coach between 1980 and 82.
John Bevan became coach in 1982 and lasted until 1985 before resigning due to ill health. In 1982, Scotland finally ended Wales' record 27-match unbeaten run at home in the Five Nations Championship.
Modern era (1983 - present)
Over the next five years other countries began to catch up with Wales. Japan came close to an upset, losing by 24-29 at Cardiff in 1983.
Tony Gray was coach from 1985 to 1988. Wales were still respected by the time of the first official Rugby World Cup which was held in 1987. A good win against rivals England in the quarter-finals saw Wales taking on tournament favourites, the All Blacks of New Zealand. Wales were defeated 49-6, but managed to beat the Australia side to claim third place.
After the World Cup, Wales won the Triple Crown in 1988, but heavy defeats on tour to New Zealand that year saw the end to a number of Welsh rugby union careers. They also went through a succession of national coaches: John Ryan was national coach between 1988 and 90 before resigning; Ron Waldron then took over as coach between 1990 and 1991 but again resigned due to ill health; Alan Davies took over in 1991 before resigning in 1995 and Alex Evans was caretaker coach for four games in 1995.
A resurgence and refinancing of rugby league in the North of England saw a record number of top players move into the professional game. Calls for rugby union to become professional had been ignored for a number of years previously and they would only get stronger as the 1990s grew on and the defections continued. Indeed, the 90s were Wales' darkest period so far in rugby union terms as defections to rugby league and internecine struggles decimated the national side. Wales suffered Five Nations championship whitewashes in 1990 and 1991, and in the 1991 Rugby World Cup were knocked out in the group phase by Western Samoa.
Kevin Bowring became Wales' first professional coach in 1995 and the late 90s saw a small resurgence in the Welsh game as rugby union finally relented and turned professional. However, things seemed to have improved with the appointment of coach Graham Henry in 1998, and the return of several internationals from rugby league. A 10-match unbeaten run saw Wales enter as host nation into the 1999 Rugby World Cup with renewed confidence. However, in the quarter final Wales lost a competitive match to the eventual champions Australia. A runner-up spot by Cardiff in the inaugural European Rugby Cup offered something in the way of progress on a club level; however, that was not followed up by further success.
Defeats to the likes of Argentina and Ireland in 2001/02 led to Henry's resignation in February 2002 and his assistant Steve Hansen took over. Further defeats led to perhaps the biggest ever shake-up of Welsh rugby union in 2003. Wales managed to distinguish themselves in the 2003 World Cup by running New Zealand, and the eventual winners of the tournament, England, close in two of the best matches of the tournament.
Wales re-emerged as a force in international rugby in the 2005 Six Nations. Coached by Mike Ruddock, the Welsh side opened with a nail-biting 11-9 win over England at the Millennium Stadium thanks to a late long range penalty from Gavin Henson. Wales had dominated England for large periods of the game and their first win over their biggest rivals since 1999 sparked fresh confidence in the ability of the Welsh to compete with the game's more competitive sides. The victory was followed by a comfortable win over Italy. The third round, away to France, was close. The French shook off their bad performances in the first two rounds of the Six Nations and took a 15-6 half-time lead. Wales fought back in the second half to score a 24-18 win, playing some scintillating rugby in the process. The game was named the best of the tournament. The fourth round, away to Scotland, saw Wales score five tries in the first half and cruise to a 46-22 win. Wales were one win away from their first grand slam in 28 years and a capacity crowd of 74,000 at the Millennium Stadium along with an estimated 100,000 people in the pubs of Cardiff gathered to watch Wales play their final game against Ireland. Wales won 32-20 to give them their first title in the competition since 1994 (when it was still the Five Nations) and their first Grand Slam since 1978. The triumph sparked emotional celebrations throughout the country. The victory saw them climb above both England and Ireland in the IRB World Rankings to become the highest ranked UK nation.
Wales then began their 2005 autumn season with a 41-3 loss to Tri-Nations champions New Zealand at Millennium Stadium; their biggest ever loss on Welsh soil in a match marking a century of rivalry between the two rugby-mad nations. However they were without several key players who were still injured from the ill-fated 2005 Lions Tour. A nail biting win over Fiji by a single point caused further criticism but an improved performance against South Africa and a win over Australia mean Wales only lost 2 games in 2005, against South Africa and New Zealand. The Welsh Rugby Union marked its 125th anniversary by bringing out a limited-edition black jersey, which was worn against Fiji and Australia during the autumn's international series.
On 14 February 2006, midway through the Six Nations Championship, it was announced that Mike Ruddock was to resign as the head coach of Wales, citing family reasons. Australian skills coach Scott Johnson, who was named caretaker coach for the remaining three Wales fixtures, was offered the job as head coach, but chose to turn down the position in favour of an assistant coaching job with the Wallabies. Later reports focused on 'player power' being behind Ruddock being forced to resign by the WRU. Wales eventually finished 5th in the table, after a win, a draw and three losses. On 27 April, Gareth Jenkins was appointed as the new coach of Wales. Jenkins wasted no time making the position his own, appointing Stephen Jones, a player he had previously worked with at the Llanelli Scarlets, as the captain of the team.
On 10 May 2007, Wales and Australia decided to celebrate 100 years of Test rugby between the two countries with the establishment of the James Bevan Trophy. It is named after the Australian-born Welsh-raised man who was the first ever captain of the Wales rugby team. Australia won the series 2 - 0, but the Welsh performance was enough for Australian commentators rate the Welsh as a World Cup threat.
Gareth Jenkins announced his Wales squad for the 2007 Rugby World Cup on 10 August 2007. The squad included stalwarts of the Welsh game, such as Colin Charvis and Martyn Williams, as well as a couple of new faces in the shape of Will James and James Hook, both going into their first Rugby World Cup. Gareth Thomas was named as the Welsh captain for the World Cup, replacing Stephen Jones, who was allegedly not selected as captain due to injury concerns. Both players, however, will be included in a "leadership group" that also includes former vice-captain Michael Owen, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Thomas and Dwayne Peel.
Wales play in red jerseys carrying the Prince of Wales's feathers, white shorts, and red socks. The change strip is currently steel with dark grey flashes. As of 2006 the strip is made by Reebok and the shirt sponsor is the Cardiff brewery S A Brain. Due to legislation concerning advertising of alcohol, when the team plays in France, the "Brains" logo is replaced by "Brawn" (in 2005) or "Brawn Again" (in 2007) in a type style essentially identical to the Brains logo. Wales moved to a new body-fitting style jersey in 2004.
The Welsh supporters have a reputation for being amongst the most fanatical in the rugby union world, making the Millennium Stadium, the team's home ground, a particularly intimidating place. The sport has a special place in the culture of Wales, and the Six Nations is one of the most supported events in the nation. Claiming to be ill at the same time as the Six Nations has become a phenomenon in Wales due to the tournament's popularity, which was described in Max Boyce's 'We All Had Doctor's Papers.' Some of the more extreme cases of support for the national team include that of a supporter selling off the lead off the roof of his house to be able to buy 1999 World Cup tickets. For the match against Scotland in 2005, 40,000 Welsh people travelled to Edinburgh to watch the game, which effectively means that 1 in 70 persons in Wales was there. For the match against Ireland, over 400,000 gathered on "Henson Hill" to watch it on a big screen, which eventually saw Wales win its first Grand Slam since 1978. The result was greeted with national delirium and was even used to explain a sudden economic surge. Over 500,000 passed through the turnstiles at Millennium Stadium for seven home games for the 2005-06 season.
Wales play all their home matches at the national stadium of Wales, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which has a capacity of 74,500 and is the largest stadium in Wales. The stadium is owned by Millennium Stadium plc which is a subsidiary company of the WRU. The stadium's first major event was Wales' first ever victory over South Africa, on 26 June 1999, although the stadium was not complete at this time.
Millennium Stadium was built in 1999 on the site of the old national stadium. The stadium was constructed for use at the 1999 World Cup, which was primarily hosted by Wales, including the final. The construction cost the WRU £126 million, which was funded by private investment, £46 million of public funds from the National Lottery, the sale of debentures to supporters (which offered guaranteed tickets in exchange for an interest-free loan), and loans.
Wales' only annual tournament is the Six Nations Championship, which is played against five other European nations: England, France, Ireland, Italy, and Scotland. The Six Nations started out as the Home Nations Championship in 1883, and Wales first won it in 1893 when they achieved a Triple Crown. Wales have won the tournament outright 23 times, and sharing ten other victories. Their longest wait between championship was 11 years (19942005). Wales first won a Five Nations grand slam in 1911, and their one and only Six Nations grand slam in 2005.