As a first Six Nations experience, Wales winger Hal Luscombe couldn’t have asked for more than an 11-9 win over arch-rivals England in front of a sell-out crowd in Cardiff.
The South African-born, Afrikaans-speaking player had come over to Wales from Cape Town as an 18-year-old in 2000 and made his national team debut once he had completed the necessary three-year residency period.
But it wasn’t until 2005, seven caps into his test career, that he truly understood how unique the Six Nations Championship was.
“Coming from South Africa I never fully appreciated just how big a rivalry Wales versus England was, or the magnitude of the Six Nations and all the history surrounding it until I played in the opening game of the 2005 Championship,” he said in an interview with The Rugby Paper.
“Obviously, I watched it on TV back in South Africa and appreciated the games, but there is nothing like experiencing it first hand.”
Luscombe admits to being taken aback by the wall of noise that greeted Wales as they ran out, and the atmosphere throughout the full-blooded encounter which is best remembered for Gavin Henson’s monster penalty kick and tackle on England debutant Mathew Tait.
“As a professional sportsman you are trained to shut out external factors such as the crowd and purely focus on the job in hand, however it was impossible not to be caught up in the occasion,” he said.
“Thankfully it didn’t affect my performance and we won a very cagey game.
“The noise and atmosphere on the final whistle was incredible, very special to experience. It’s one of my memories that I will take to the grave.”
Luscombe pulled his hamstring in the next game against Italy, and only featured once more, as a centre in Wales’ 46-22 victory against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Wales’ first Grand Slam since 1978 was then claimed against Ireland the following week with Luscombe having to watch on in the stands after failing a fitness test.
Unheralded hero of 2005
“Momentum is such a big thing in the Six Nations and after winning that first game we felt that no-one could stop us,” he reflected.
“No-one fully appreciates the impact of winning the Grand Slam. People like Gavin and (try-scorer) Shane Williams almost became superstars overnight.
“I wasn’t in the limelight as much – maybe no-one knew who I was because of the scrum cap, which I’d worn from an early age.
“But I did notice how my value increased in the marketplace. I had offers from England and France after that.”
Luscombe became a successful businessman in the property sector upon retirement and is now back in South Africa.
While not the most high-profile member of that triumphant 2005 squad, Luscombe says it was the pinnacle of his career.
“To beat England, in front of a Welsh crowd, at the Millennium Stadium, it doesn’t get any better in any sporting arena than that.
“It’s probably the game that gets talked about the most when people ask me about my career.”