Your winner, and still the Six Nations Champions- WALES!Posted: March 16, 2013
If you’re English you might not want to read on.
I love the Six Nations. Love it.
After an agonizing defeat against Ireland, my spirits were low.
Wales had lost eight matches on the bounce. A year after a Grand Slam we looked lost, confused and generally a shambles. It made no sense, we had the same players but something was missing, the entire team seemed to have lost it’s mojo and they weren’t clicking on the field.
I was nervously expecting a return to the rubbish displays of my youth, with Wales slumping to a low table finish and maybe even the dreaded wooden spoon.
And then, on a rain swept Parisian field suddenly the jinx fell away and we laid the smack down on the French, emerging with a 10 point victory.
Italy were next to fall and then Scotland were defeated.
Three victories in a row and suddenly we were lined up for the big game, a championship decider in Cardiff.
On the other side of the Severn Bridge, England had been dominant from the off, dispatching Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy. They were on the hunt for the Grand Slam, but they had to beat us first.
And a funny thing had happened over the course of the tournament. I’d started to believe in Wales again.
Coming back from 8 victories on the bounce showed grit. We’d looked strong against France, and the psychological advantage was all ours.
The Grand Slam can make teams nervous, and several teams have fallen at the last hurdle. Also, it was in Cardiff, and I can only imagine that walking out into a stadium full of singing, cheering Welsh fans who want nothing more than to see you lose must be intimidating as hell.
I’ve spoken to English friends about this, and they always say that they don’t see Wales as their major rivals in the tournament, they’re more focused on beating the Scots or the French. That’s where the beef is, as far as they’re concerned.
Yeah, well, for us, this is the show.
Maybe it’s because we’re a “conquered people”, or it could be a class thing- in England rugby is a little bit posher than football, whereas in Wales, it’s something every boy plays in school. But, whatever the reason, as the song goes “as long as we beat the English, we don’t care”.
Scotland have a similar attitude, and most years their performance in the Calcutta Cup is their most ferocious of the tournament. The Irish as well, quite like sticking it to the English. And the French don’t have a lot of love for them either.
English folk will tell you that this is because of bitterness over past defeats off the field, and I suppose if everyone dislikes you you’re gonna try and make it about them rather than taking a look at yourself in the mirror.
Anyway, the England game is always a big deal, and now, now the pressure was on them.
I mean, technically, they were in the safer position- a win would be a Grand Slam, a rare rugby draw would be enough for them to be Champions and they could even lose and still win the championship, due to points difference. All they had to do was not lose by more than 7 points and they were golden.
But psychologically, the edge was ours.
That’s not to say I was overly confident. I felt the lads would come out strong, but England had been good throughout and might be able to stand their ground. But I thought we might be able to capitalize on them feeling the strain and snatch a victory.
Following sports has taught me one thing- the gods of games are petty and cruel, and they plague mankind with suffering. The worst possible way things could go down for Wales, in my opinion, was for us to be in a championship winning lead until the dying minutes where England would snatch a fluky score and close the gap to 6 points, just short of the target we needed (and to really rub salt in the wound it would probably be scored by Chris Ashton, the biggest bellend in rugby).
I’d already watched the Swans lose to Arsenal in the footy, so I was relying on Wales to improve my day.
Luckily, the boys in red didn’t disappoint. By half time we were leading 9-3 thanks to Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking.
It was good, but it was only six points. Could we hold our own in the second and keep England at least 8 points behind.
You’re damn right we could.
Halfpenny kicked another in the second half, extending the lead to the magic 8. And minutes later, Alex Cuthbert scored a try for the lads.
It was a brilliant try, with Wales recovering a loose ball and working it out to Cuthebert, who gave Mike Brown the hand off and stormed over the line. 17-3.
Halfpenny missed the conversion, but it still felt like a comfortable lead, as Wales began to dominate, keeping possession and constantly attacking the English line. Dan Biggar kicked a drop goal to make it 20-3 lead.
And then Alex Cuthbert struck once more. It came from a fantastic stretch of play, where both Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton went on big runs, and then Wales passed brilliantly before Justin Tipuric drew the defenders in before flicking it to Cuthbert for his second try.
Biggar converted and it was 27-3.
A further Biggar penalty extended the lead to an impressive 27 points, a record for Wales against the English.
It all looked rather easy in the second half, with Wales outclassing England, who looked shaky and nervous. Wales kept pushing until the end and when the whistle finally went the Millennium Stadium erupted.
In a lot of ways this championship was even sweeter than last year’s Grand Slam. To come back from those defeats was immense, and it was good to see the team rebuilding and rediscovering it’s momentum. And then for it all to culminate in such a convincing, dominant performance was the icing on the cake.
As Adam Jones and Co. paraded around the ground I was filled with happiness. People are a little bit smug about sports and sports fans, but let me tell you this- following sports can be a wonderfully life affirming experience. You get heroes and joy, meaningless sorrows and injustices, and you get to share it all with other people.
I’m still buzzing from the result, and not just because I’d bet my Dad, more out of bravado than actual belief, that Wales would finish higher in the table than England.
I’d yelled and roared at the TV, even got a little emotional and all I can say is, roll on Six Nations 2014.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.