Geoffrey Chaucher! Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor! Isambard Kingdom Brunel! Michael Parkinson! St. George! Jeremy Clarkson! Bill Beaumont! Can you hear me? Bill Beaumont, can you hear me?! Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!
Gloat over (and thanks to legendary Norwegian commentator Bjørge Lillelien for the inspiration), Saturday’s result against England was beyond the wildest dreams of any Dai-hard Welsh supporter. The tongue-in-cheek cries of, “Easy, Easy!”, from the 74,000 strong Millennium Stadium crowd (who were fantastic by the way) were a marker of just how unbelievable this record-breaking victory was. In dispatching the Old Enemy, Wales achieved back-to-back championships for the first time since 1979 and the biggest winning margin over England in over a century. It is safe to say that most cheerleaders in red would have taken that result before the game, given especially that all the talk beforehand was whether this Welsh side could halt the English Juggernaut on their quest for Grand Slam Glory. At the end of the match, the smiling face of BBC pundit Jonathan Davies alongside the more morose fizzogs of Inverdale, Woodward and Guscott said it all. Wales had not only derailed that Sweet Chariot, they had sent it backpedalling at a rate of knots down the M4. Ok, seriously, gloat over.
Earlier in the tournament, I wrote a blog post which questioned how good Wales really were. The verdict was that the current crop of players had the potential to be a truly great side but needed to add more skill to their combative style of play. Well, fair play to the lads, they couldn’t have picked a better game to show the world what they’re capable of when they add ‘Pace’ and ‘Passing’ to their game vocabulary (a phrasebook dominated too often by another p-word – ‘Physicality’). The poster-boy for this landmark win was Justin Tipuric who justified Rob Howley’s decision to pick him at 7 alongside Warburton and gave Warren Gatland an almighty Lions-selection headache in the process. His dummy pass to set up Alex Cuthbert’s second try was indicative of the confidence that visibly grew within the Welsh team as the game went on.
The players must now use this confidence to launch an attack on Southern Hemisphere supremacy. If, as expected, Wales provide the biggest representation in the forthcoming Lions touring party, then the players will savour the opportunity to beat an Australian team that has been the thorn in the side of Welsh development over the last eighteen months. If the Men in Red are to break their recent duck against the SANZAR countries, then beating the Aussies in the red of the British and Irish Lions may prove to be the psychological trigger that spurs Wales onto the ‘next stage’ towards World Cup glory. For the Welsh to have any realistic chance of lifting the 2015 Rugby World Cup they must start to beat the Kiwis, Springboks and Australians. Following the scale of victory on Saturday, most of the Welsh XV will now get a chance to do just that in June. For those who don’t make the Lions trip, the Autumn Internationals will be the next big target (following a summer tour to Japan). South Africa are the only named opponents for that series so far, although New Zealand have confirmed they are touring in November. Given the autumnal flop of last year, the WRU must target this series and ensure the team are as prepared as possible. There will be no time to ‘ease into it’ as Wales have seemingly done in this year’s Six Nations. ‘European Champions’ is a label that sits very comfortable with Wales following four championships in nine years. We’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. It’s time for our Welsh side to become the greatest in our 130-year history by taking the, “Easy, Easy!”, mentality to achieve what has (so far) seemed difficult – a Southern Hemisphere scalp.
I should mention, at this stage, that my gloating (in person) towards English friends and colleagues has been minimal. Not because I feel particularly sorry for them (a thrashing is a thrashing after all lads) but because I suspect this young England team are only going to get stronger and, as mentioned in last week’s blog, they will have their day against us Welsh types yet. But not this year gents – you got pummelled.
My ‘Team of the Tournament’ does have a few English faces in it though (five to be exact) alongside nine Welshman and a Scot. So that means no Italians, no French (who form the ‘Worst Team of the Tournament’ on their own) and, amazingly, no Irish. Who would have thought that after Round One?
Six Nations 2013 ‘Team of the Tournament’
15: Leigh Halfpenny (WAL) – Scotland’s Hogg had the better attacking game but Halfpenny is ‘Mr Reliable’ with a metronomic boot and a body-on-the-line attitude to defence. He’s my man of the tournament.
14: Alex Cuthbert (WAL) – The tournament’s top try-scorer is defensively dodgy, but most 14s have been this year. His attacking ability means he edges it though.
13: Manu Tuilagi (ENG) – Didn’t have a brilliant game against Wales but England look more dangerous with him in the team. He’s brave too having played against France with an ear hanging off for most of the match. N.B. This place would have gone to Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll but he’s been a naughty boy of late.
12: Brad Barritt (ENG) – Jamie Roberts had his best game in a year on Saturday but Barritt has been the better 12 throughout the tournament.
11: George North (WAL) – His try in France turned Wales’ tournament fortunes around and his rampaging runs had the English defence on the back foot.
10: Owen Farrell (ENG) – It was all about Jonathan Sexton at the start of the campaign but Farrell is the Lions No. 10 elect.
9: Greig Laidlaw (SCO) – The surprise pick of my XV, but he’s kept Scotland in matches this year and is a major reason why the Tartan Army gained their best Six Nations finish in seven years.
1: Gethin Jenkins (WAL) – He faced claims of being ‘unfit’ at the start of the tournament but since the French game he has been outstanding. A great tournament for him topped off by lifting the trophy for Wales.
2: Richard Hibbard (WAL) – Rory Best from Ireland was outstanding in the first match but, like the majority of the Ireland team, has slipped away. England’s Tom Youngs needs a mention too but Hibbard takes it (just for THAT tackle on Joe Marler alone).
3: Adam Jones (WAL) – Legend. End of.
4: Andrew Coombs (WAL) – Coombs gets my call here for three great outings at the start of the competition, at a time when Wales were threadbare in that department. The fact that people were questioning the reintroduction of Alun Wyn-Jones says it all.
5: Geoff Parling (ENG) – Labelled as the ‘father figure’ in England’s impressive second-row, Parling has been the best lock of the tournament.
6: Chris Robshaw (ENG) – OK, he didn’t start any game at 6 but he deserves to be in the team. He was England’s best player on Saturday and their best player throughout the last seven weeks.
7: Justin Tipuric (WAL) – He hasn’t got the credit he’s deserved this campaign, but he will get plenty of plaudits this week following an excellent performance against England. The Warburton v Tipuric debate will continue.
8: Toby Faletau (WAL) – A player who quietly gets on with his role…if bullocking through opposition defences can be done quietly!
So that’s the end of the Six Nations 2013. The blog will now take a two-week rest, returning on Easter Monday with a look forward to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.