The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

Breathing Fire! Living the Grand Slam dream with Wales’ rugby heroes

Breathing Fire
Breathing Fire!

Published by Vision port Publishing

By Team Wales

Less than two months have passed since Wales shocked the rugby world by claiming her first grand slam in 27 years, yet we already have a second book on the subject hitting the shelves. Paul Rees’ ‘Year of the Dragon’ gave us the unofficial, written account of the season and now Welsh fans can get the glossy, giant-sized official document to sit alongside it on their coffee table. Official books from sporting teams all too often tend to be drab affairs, rushed into print to feed a hungry public and to make a quick buck before the hype dies down. The publishers should be praised in this case for making sure the quality of this book’s design, content and appearance is worthy of some of the rugby that inspired it.

Sports photographic agency, the Huw Evans Picture Agency, were allowed unprecedented access to the Welsh squad for this campaign and, fortunately for them, it coincided with the first grand slam in nearly three decades. The book is divided into five chapters, one for each game of the campaign. Each section, beautifully presented, begins with behind the scenes images from training sessions, team travel and match preparations. This is followed by live action from the game and the subsequent changing room and celebration scenes.

All of the chapters are sprinkled with a smattering of personal recollections from various players involved. These anecdotes are well judged and avoid the standard sporting clichés. Instead we are given some touching insights into the personal significance of Wales’ achievements. Dwayne Peel, for example, marvels at how far he has come from the days he sat in front of the box on match days with his bag of crisps and can of coke, whilst Shane Williams relates how his score against England was the realisation of a dream held since his childhood in the valleys. Further to this we have the insights into the toll the modern game takes on its performers, Gethin Jenkins’ account of having each of his vertebrae clicked slowly back into place after the Scottish game - and then having to face the scrummage machine all over again in training - is a welcome reminder of the less glorious unseen moments of glorious public campaigns. Indeed, this is a point that chief photographer Huw Evans was keen to stress in the book: “These guys put their body on the line and sometimes the general public don’t realise or appreciate it. Some of the photos in the book are taken in the dressing rooms straight after the victories and the guys are just sat there exhausted. While the fans are celebrating these guys are making sure they are fit enough for the next game.”

The images themselves, and spread out over 250 large glossy pages there are many, range from the stunning, to the understated and to the downright surreal - Dafydd Jones tweaking Danny Grewcock’s nose in a ferociously contested ruck, for example. But despite the fantastic action images the beauty in Breathing Fire is in the small details: the professional players training against a backdrop of garden allotments on a local amateur club’s training field, the team’s kit man struggling to find the training balls that have become lost in the undergrowth after kicking practice, or Martyn Williams popping his head over the top of the English scrum in anticipation of what the Red Rose Army plan next.

Again and again the book gives lie to the cynics who claim the modern game is devoid of tradition, loyalty and friendship. One of the nice features to be revealed is the Welsh the management installed plaques above each player’s kit in the changing room to remind them of their place in history – ‘Dwayne Peel - Welsh Cap No 994’ - and there can be little doubt this squad felt a togetherness and loyalty to each other, and to the cause, that is refreshing in the modern era. For all the high technology facilities available to the team they still spend a lot of time on what are effectively local pitches, bringing the team to various local communities. “These are the best bunch of guys I have ever worked with,” says Huw Evans. “Honestly. They are so down to earth and so committed. They never forget their roots and spend so much time signing autographs and talking to fans.”

As successfully as the book manages to give a glimpse into the internal workings of this Welsh team, it could have benefited, perhaps, from a few more shots of the colour and drama that surrounded the team. A few more images of the extraordinary scenes in the streets of Cardiff on the final match day against Ireland (250,000 extra people crammed into a city which has a population of around 300,000) would have helped place the events into a wider context. The generally sublime action shots are mainly in tight on the proceedings and maybe a couple of extra panoramic shots showing the impressive backdrop of the Stade de France or the Millennium Stadium would have been a nice addition. It is also disappointing that Scott Johnson, the charismatic Aussie skills coach famous for his behaviour on the touchlines during the game, fails to have much presence in the book. But these are minor criticisms, a splitting of the hairs so to speak. This is quite simply an exquisite book. Any Welsh fan who thinks that in years to come they may wish to revisit those heady moments of the Six Nations campaign of 2005, and let’s face it, there are probably thousands, should invest in Breathing Fire! right now.

And one final comment, what was Michael Owen thinking in keeping that dreadful scrum-cap on when he lifted the trophy?