Forty-eight hours after the most dominant Welsh performance over a tier one side I can remember, it still seems amazing.
It was a performance of incredible intensity, as one-sided as any match in the Six Nations in the last few seasons. It was tight until half-time, true, but even trailing only 12-3, you felt England were beaten. They threatened briefly early on, then briefly at the death, but never really looked like penetrating a Welsh defence which has now gone nearly four and a half games without conceding a try.
Wales truly dominated. English fans don’t exactly worship Steve Walsh, and I’ll not pretend to be an expert in the officiating of the scrums. But Joe Marler was totally humiliated by Adam Jones (a possible player of the tournament) to the extent it was almost embarrassing for the Welsh fans.
That was the most obvious head-to-head victory for a Welsh player, but I can’t think of any clash where an Englishman had the upper hand. The Ian Evans and Alun Wyn Jones were again immense. The back row? Man-of-the-match Tipuric was sublime in the loose, Sam Warburton again embarrassed those who had questioned him, and Toby Faletau was as bruising as ever.
It was the same story among the backs. Dan Biggar’s confidence continues to build, and his drop goal effectively sealed the championship for Wales. George North was dangerous, Alex Cuthbert was lethal: simply no comparison with Mike Brown and Chris Ashton. Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi were one-dimensional, not-quite-powerful-enough, and – in Tuilagi’s case – wasteful of England’s only decent chances. Again, the English pairing were outclassed by their Welsh opponents, here a resurgent Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.
And, of course, the last line of defence. Leigh Halfpenny, probably player of the tournament. Probably the outstanding player in European rugby at the moment. A metronomic goal kicker, safer than houses under the high ball, fearless in the tackle. Rob Kearney has long been touted as the likely Lions full back, with Halfpenny back in his original position on the wing. But, as one rugby blog puts it, “Anyone suggesting that Kearney should get the Lions shirt is either lying, blind or mad.”
All this in an atmosphere unlike any I have ever experienced in sport. The pyrotechnics as Wales entered the field of play, knowing they needed a seven-point win to retain their title – a margin Welsh fans might have been hopeful of, but were hardly expecting – were spectacular.
God Save the Queen was belted out well by the sizeable English contingent at the Millennium Stadium, but the response with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was just incredible. JPR Williams attributes the passion of the crowd – fed on by the players – to the Welsh win. Perhaps; if I had been an English player there would have been nothing I’d have enjoyed more than silencing the crowd.
But the crowd refused to be silent. If I close my eyes I can still hear Hymns and Arias and Bread of Heaven reverberating around the cauldron of noise. Not to mention “Easy, easy” – a bit unclassy maybe, but no less true. And, from a section of the crowd just behind me, “All we need is eight, eight is all we need”. As it turned out, England would probably have been grateful to have escaped from Cardiff with a loss that small, as they gazed at Ryan Jones and Gethin Jenkins raising the Six Nations trophy towards a stunned and emotional Millennium Stadium crowd.
Speaking of emotion, Rob Howley’s face was a picture of it by the final whistle. The last home game I saw was Wales’s capitulation to Argentina, and I thought at that stage he was simply not cut out to be a coach. I’m glad for Howley, my favourite player when I was growing up, to have been proved emphatically wrong.
For the record:
- In terms of points scored, it was Wales’s largest ever win over England (though previous wins have been more convincing on the scoring system of the day).
- Wales have now won three matches in a row against England – for the first time since the late 1970s.
- In the all-time series between the sides, Wales and England have won 56 matches each.
- Both sides have also now won 26 championships all time (though England have 12 Grand Slams to Wales’s 11. Thanks to the three people who told me I originally said Wales had only won one).
- It was Wales’s biggest win over any opponent since their 66-0 triumph against Fiji in the 2011 World Cup.
- It was Wales’s biggest win over a Six Nations opponent since their 47-8 triumph against Italy in 2008.
- It was England’s biggest defeat since they were thrashed 42-6 by South Africa in November 2008.
- Since the opening weekend, Wales have not conceded a try. In the same period, England have scored just one.
- Leigh Halfpenny scored more points in the tournament than France and Ireland.