Gatland delivers on bold Grand Slam promise as unwavering belief powers Wales

Wales celebrate their fourth Six Nations success under Warren Gatland, who set a new record for a coach with his third Grand Slam Dan Mullan/Getty Images

CARDIFF - Wales' Grand Slam party had already long started by the time Ireland finally crossed the line for a try of scant consolation. But it was only at that moment captain Alun Wyn Jones allowed himself a chance to collect his breath.

Even with two minutes left as some of his players turned to the celebrating supporters to acknowledge their impending Grand Slam while Hymns and Arias invaded every corner of Cardiff, Jones put his strapped forefinger to his temple, and moved his arms up and down, calling for calm and further focus.

Wales were 25-0 to the good, the Six Nations title already firmly in their grasp, his third personal Grand Slam but as the rain poured from the heavens, Jones wanted the complete 80-minute performance. As Ireland got their consolation score, he had to be hauled off the turf by two teammates, utterly exhausted, but then as Jack Carty ran up for the conversion it was Jones sprinting at the front trying to put him off.

The competitor in him is never satisfied, having spent his whole career searching for faultlessness like a surfer yearning for the perfect wave. Even with the Six Nations clean sweep secured, he called for improvement. But, eventually, even he allowed himself to enjoy this remarkable triumph.

Wales' 25-7 win was no fluke, nor was it a flattering scoreline. It underpinned everything this team is about: built in coach Warren Gatland's image, anchored on physicality, structure, taking chances, unwavering belief in one another and, above all, winning.

Gatland said before the start of this championship that if Wales won in Paris in their opener, they'd win the Grand Slam. The comment was greeted with the usual doubting chuckles, a standard eyebrow-raising response to a rare show of ballsy confidence in this world of PR-friendly nothings.

How typical of Gatland to predict something bold and had he forgotten England and Ireland? Pah!

A Grand Slam? Come on, Warren.

But the players believed him. They didn't raise eyebrows, instead they trusted him.

"I'd like to take my hat off to Gats," said Joe Schmidt, the Ireland coach who was toasting his own Grand Slam this time last year. "To do 12 years as an international coach ... I've done six and it's nearly killed me. What a super effort. They know how to fight their way through to the finish."

There are moments dotted through Gatland's career where he has been doubted, his teams written off. He's been called all sorts but his teams have an incredible ability of winning key matches -- they always find a way to get over the line. "When you have that sort of confidence at the top of the tree, it filters down and it's hard to ignore," Jones said of Gatland. That's what happens when you are a born winner and an unrivalled motivator. He delivers and, like all great artists, his legacy will only be truly appreciated when he is gone.

When Gatland took this job, he tapped into the country's DNA, seeing similarities between the rugby cauldron of Wales and his own New Zealand. He offered Wales a Richie McCaw in Sam Warburton. He knew that although he had a smaller player pool than their more illustrious neighbours, England, if he could get the country behind the team with blinding loyalty, they would be far more than the sum of its parts.

And that's what we saw on Saturday afternoon in drenched Cardiff. They -- players, fans -- thrived off the emotion of a potential Grand Slam. "The boys thoroughly deserve it," Gatland said. "It's about them and their families. Creating history and winning grand slams, things nobody can take away from you."

From the start of the match, from the chest-thumping songs, to the passion on Alun Wyn Jones' face as he sang the Wales anthem, to their try after a mere 72 seconds as they breezed through the famous Ireland defence, Wales were never going to lose this match.

The game itself ran to a straightforward narrative. Wales were far better; Ireland made uncharacteristic errors while Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray played poorly and looked rattled. Ireland never got a foothold in the match, while Wales had their foot on their throat for the entire game. Wales took their points when they forced them, punishing Irish ill-discipline and just as they did against England, they never allowed their concentration to lapse, staying true to the brilliance of Shaun Edwards' defence coaching.

There was also a wonderful symmetry with how Wales started this competition. Back in round one in Paris they were 16-0 down to France at half time; here in Cardiff they were 16-0 to the good. But just as they did in Paris, they believed in their game plan and processes and trusted themselves and their management team.

This country has an incredible ability to elevate players above their station. Five years ago Gareth Anscombe was just another player on the fringes of Test rugby in New Zealand. He was named after Gareth Edwards, but even in his wildest dreams, he would never have thought he'd end up joining his namesake as a Welsh Grand Slam winner. But the faith Gatland has put in him has turned him into a world-beater. And on this historic afternoon, in front of his father and brother in the stands, he comprehensively outplayed Sexton, was pinpoint with the boot with seven successes from seven attempts and was named man of the match.

There are other Anscombe examples in the Wales team -- the superb Hadleigh Parkes has been transformed from a Super Rugby journeyman to the glue at the centre of this Grand Slam team, having shed blood and scored tries for the cause.

Those with narrow-minded rugby views were already labelling this Grand Slam a poor clean-sweep in the build-up to this match. How foolish. Though Wales finished without a single try-scoring bonus point, this style of rugby is the sort that wins trophies, and potentially World Cups. You don't win the sport's biggest prize by offloading at every occurrence, or turning down points for the corner.

Gatland wants his Wales team to continue flying under the radar, forever questioned and doubted. But this Six Nations campaign has seen them elevated to second in the world and cemented as World Cup contenders. And all that without Rhys Webb, Taulupe Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny, along with the now-retired Warburton.

As the adrenaline subsided after the game, Gatland and Alun Wyn Jones sat facing the press. Jones' family were outside, his two girls looking forward to seeing their dad. They were worried about his dirty hands, but equally inquisitive at this shiny piece of metal on the end of a ribbon that he held in one of those paws. He's got another three at home. "I'm very fortunate to have won these Grand Slams," Jones said. "I don't know if it's because I'm getting soft in my old age, or if it's when you have kids, your perspective changes. When you see these young men come into the side and grow over a nine-week period, it's down to the team -- I can't tell these young guys how to perform."

Even Gatland admitted to getting emotional when he saw Jones lift the Six Nations trophy alongside his younger teammates straining their vocal chords in celebration. Though he said any images of him wiping his face was due to the rain, he enjoyed the "buzz" of winning and was hit by the odd pang of nostalgia for everything he has achieved with Wales.

Gatland will miss the bus journeys into the stadium, the comradery in the team, seeing his players grow and his coaching staff. But he won't want adulation for his third Grand Slam, the first coach to achieve this honour. "I'll enjoy those after I've finished here in Wales, it's about the players and we stress that," Gatland said.

But he's not yet ready to say goodbye. "We can't let him slow down yet," Jones said of Gatland, with the World Cup looming ever closer now. There are bigger prizes on offer and Gatland's thirst for further victory will see him attack that with unrivalled gusto.

But for the next couple of days, he will ensure his team enjoy this Grand Slam. The coaching debrief was meant to be on Tuesday, but it's been cancelled in favour of a long lunch late into the evening. "We don't need one," Gatland said. "You can sum this up in two words: pretty good."