Scotland arrived at the Millennium Stadium on matchday one and Wales got off to a flying start with a try from Shane Williams in the third minute. An expansive game followed with Wales freely passing and running the ball producing a further two tries from Rhys Williams and Adam Jones. Stephen Jones topped up the points from the kicking opportunities provided and Wales broke their opening day duck of losing every opening Six Nations match since 1997 by claiming a 23-10 victory.
With two points notched up on the table, Wales travelled to Lansdowne Road for matchday two of the tournament against an Irish team that had lost its opening day match to France. With both teams delivering fantastic opening day performances, the Dublin match was anticipated as a clash of two attacking teams, but Welsh hearts were broken soon after kick off. With less than a minute played Shane Byrne, broke free from a maul and crossed for the first of Ireland's six tries. Another try from Byrne, two from Brian O'Driscoll, and one a piece from Anthony Foley and Ronan O' Gara saw Wales comfortably beaten in spite of the game providing a spectacle of running rugby. 24-3 down at the break, a late Wales charge in the second half produced two tries from Tom Shanklin and notched some points onto the scoreboard for Wales, with the team leaving Lansdowne Road with a 36-15 defeat.
Intending to learn from the mistakes of Lansdowne Road, Wales welcomed France to the Millennium Stadium on matchday three with the return of injured Skipper Colin Charvis, but man of the match Baptiste Elissalde proved the decisive factor by scoring 24 of the visitors points. A victory which put them top of the RBS 6 Nations table. Wales were trailing early on in the match from an Elissalde penalty after they were caught offside. Stephen Jones punished French errors with penalty kicks before France pierced the defence with a try just before the break. Further French tries followed before a late Martyn Williams try made a draw look like a real prospect, but with an equalising try failing to materialise, Wales had lost again with a final score of 22-29.
Following the World Cup Quarter-final exit, the England game at Twickenham was one the most eagerly anticipated game of the campaign. Having run the World Champions ragged in the quarter-final match, and with the prospect of having nearly snatched a draw against the French the week before, Wales went into the match with the sense that a victory over the old enemy might be a real prospect. Although the final result was a 31-21 defeat, Wales came very close to taking the scalp they were looking for and rattled England early in the second half by taking apart a 16-9 deficit with tries from Gareth Thomas and Mark Taylor to lead 21-16. Ben Cohen and Olly Barkley inspired a late England rally, but as they prepared to look towards their Six Nations showdown with France, England knew that they had been in a game, and with a little more Welsh resilience, would have been beaten.
Italy provided a second welcome victory on the last day of the tournament and an emotional send-off for Steve Hansen as Wales made up for the last season's opening day defeat in Rome. Two for Rhys Williams and Shane Williams with one a piece for Thomas and Shanklin saw Wales end the series on a happy note 44-10 with a victory for the outgoing National Coach.
Wales finished fourth in the Championship table on four points, two behind England and two ahead of Italy.
The end of the domestic season saw the Scarlets crowned champions of the newly formatted Celtic League in a stunning final day showdown with fellow table leaders Ulster at Stradey Park, and Newport won the new-look Welsh Premier Division.
The summer games saw new Wales Coach Mike Ruddock having his first look at the National Team and experimenting for the future. The feel good factor of Steve Hansen's final game victory was matched in Ruddock's opener as his Wales side conceded no points at all and scored 42 against the Barbarians at Ashton Gate.
The tour followed with one defeat and one victory against Argentina, and a further defeat to South Africa in Pretoria. In spite of two defeats, Wales's performance had produced plaudits, the team had brought the first test against Argentina back to within six points having been 29 points down at one stage, and Shane Williams bagged a hat-trick in the second.
The summer months also saw Brains come on board as the national shirt sponsor, and the Millennium Stadium celebrated five glorious years as the new home of Welsh Rugby and a world class venue.
The Lloyds TSB Autumn Series gave Wales the chance to end the year on a high with the tri-nations champions and the All Blacks making their way to the Millennium Stadium along with Romania and Japan.
Wales were hoping to repeat the feat of five years ago when the Springboks arrived in Cardiff, and within two minutes of the second half, it looked possible as a converted Gavin Henson try put Wales within touching distance of their opponents at 23-22. South Africa pulled further away before two late Wales tries pulled the haul back to within two points at 38-36 to the visitors. Wales had lost the opening test, but the performance had given fans enough to hope for a victory over the All Blacks in two weeks time.
Wales v Romania saw Tom Shanklin write himself into the elite record books with four tries in a 66-7 victory, and set Welsh spirits high for the following week's clash.
The nation couldn't wait any longer and with a sell-out 74,000 crowd, the Millennium Stadium welcomed the All Blacks on 20th November. After a Welsh 'Bread of Heaven' response to the Haka had brought the house down, Wales got down to business and ran the All Blacks close. A disallowed Dwayne Peel try had given the home crowd a taster of what they craved, then the cheers erupted as Shanklin followed up on his four tries the week before with a fantastic opener for Wales. A Stephen Jones penalty-try topped up the points and Wales led the All Blacks 14-13 at the break. Mefin Davies crossed again within two minutes of the interval and Wales were 19-13 ahead. The All Blacks fought back with two tries from Joe Rokocoko and left Wales playing catch up. Gavin Henson brought the crowd to the edge of their seats with a late penalty to come within one point, but it was not enough and Wales left disappointed, with New Zealand having edged the match 25-26, and will have to wait for at least one more test against them to end 53 years of hurt.
Japan saw Wales finish the series and the year on a high with a 98-0 win and four tries from Colin Charvis. Gavin Henson maintained a 100% kicking record throughout the match in the absence of Stephen Jones who had returned to his club in France along with new Wales captain Gareth Thomas.
Mike Ruddock has rated the team 6 out of 10, and now ponders his selection for the forthcoming RBS Six Nations clash. One thing is certain, with Wales hungry for a victory over the top ranked teams and coming so close to South Africa and New Zealand, the opening day of the championship against England looks set to be a classic.
From all of us here at the WRU eZine, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!