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Rugby fans in Wales are ready for another potential Grand Slam Saturday – but it will be a day unlike the others.
Scotland hosts Italy and England travel to Dublin as an appetizer to the Six Nations before the main course in Paris, and only France and invincible Wales can still win the tournament.
A win would bring the fifth Grand Slam tournament in Wales to the six-nation era.
But because of Covid-19 this would be the first without fans at a game or in pubs and rugby clubs across Wales.
Whether the events will be resolved on “Super Saturday” remains to be seen with Scotland, who will still travel to Paris on March 26, six days after the scheduled end of the tournament.
The original game was interrupted in February due to Covid-19 cases at a French camp that potentially spoiled the concept of everything that was completed on the last day.
Wales draws and the champions are crowned, while there is a scenario in which they could lose but still lay the title if they win a bonus point and France do not. After that it could get complicated and go to the final match.
What is not in doubt is that the people of Wayne Pivac can remove all uncertainty by triumphing in Paris and winning the 13th Grand Slam tied with England.
There was something special about the Six Nations final in Wales. Finally, Cardiff has had a lot of home practice in recent years on this crucial day, and Wales has won more Six Slams than six nations than anyone else.
Pubs would usually be full, and the streets full of fans celebrating the achievements of their rugby heroes.
Few will forget the sun-drenched magical March of 2005 when hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Cardiff.
Supporters climbed the trees in front of City Hall to see the game on the big screen as the nation went crazy marking the end of a 27-year wait for the Grand Slam.
Not on this occasion. There are no gatherings at the Principality Stadium, on the city streets or rugby clubs across Wales.
No hugging random strangers lined in red, no singing the abundance of Welsh rugby anthems, no shoes sticking to the floor of crowded pubs.
Instead, witnessing the prospect of a fifth Grand Slam victory in 16 years, fans will be locked in their living rooms across the country because of this spectacular bustle of nations bound in a sofa rather than a stadium.
It has been 50 years since Wales last made a clean swing since Cardiff when all-time greats Barry John, Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams helped the class in 1971 defeat France in Paris.
Since those dizzying times, the Grand Slam Carnival Days have all been at home, with six successes in the capital of Welsh from 1976 to 2019.
Four of those wins came against France, with two wins in 2005 and 2019 against Ireland, and created legends of favorites such as Edwards, Phil Bennett, Gethin Jenkins, Gavin Henson, Shane Williams, Martyn Williams and Alun Wyn Jones.
Today, the streets in the cities, towns and villages of Wales will be mostly quiet, and Pivac’s team must travel to Paris to reach the Grand Slam goal.
He will have to perform a feat at the terrifying Stade de France stadium, albeit minus 81,000 French spectators. The arena will be filled only with players, backroom teams, stewards and a handful of media.
Wales captain Jones says players will think about the country as they sing anthems.
“It didn’t get lost on you, it’s a small difference that it’s not there,” Jones said.
“I, as an individual and a team, should not have been reminded of what everyone is facing and what we represent.”
It is also the Grand Slam day that few expected after a disappointing 2020, where Wales finished fifth in the Six Nations Cup and the Autumn Nations, winning just three of 10 games.
It was difficult for the beer to replace New Zealander Warren Gatland, who oversaw three Grand Slam successes and two World Cup semi-finals.
Heavy calls were made. The brewer parted ways with his defense coach and longtime ally Byron Hayward in November last year, and Gethin Jenkins took over.
He dropped George North in the fall campaign, then put him back in the fold and switched from the wing to the center.
In this tournament the North has surpassed 100 captains from Wales and today is part of the most experienced side in history, led by world record Alun Wyn Jones.
The coach also bled young players like Kieran Hardy, Louis Rees-Zammit, Callum Sheedy and James Botham who participated in this six-nation campaign.
The brewer will also admit that Wales had their share of luck with being labeled by some as “Jam Slam” and questioning the quality of their campaign so far.
The opening two wins against Ireland and Scotland were achieved against 14 men with Peter O’Mahony and Zander Fagerson excluded, while two controversial attempts were awarded against England.
The wealth argument does not recognize 17 attempts scored in four games or a record 40 points collected against 2020 champion Eddie Jones.
The success of the six nations in Wales so far in 2021 is due to a firmer foundation with a solid set-up, clinical finishing and outstanding discipline. And they have an outstanding record in recent Grand Slam fights.
The stars continued to level for Wales when England managed to do them a favor by beating France, leaving Beer as the only team that could complete a clean swing.
So, despite all the doubts and slanderers, if the events take place in favor of Wales in Paris, the Grand Slam of the six nations will continue to be wildly celebrated. Just maybe not in the same traditional way as the years went by.