There comes a day in rugby when for a team everything just happens to go right. On Saturday as Wales faced England in the tournament showdown it happened for them. From the build-up, to the anthems and then the performance on the pitch; Wales simply got it spot on.
With the noise almost deafening, both teams started playing the game in a spirit that was to be admired. It was played at a breakneck speed, huge hits flying in as defences ruled and both teams looked to run the ball and to create. From some of the dismal displays seen in this year’s tournament it was a much welcomed breath of fresh air.
Chances of points were few and far between, but it was England’s discipline at the breakdown that folded first, allowing full back Leigh Halfpenny to slot over a couple of penalties. England’s Farrell responded with one of his own, but was wayward with his boot with another two.
As the first half progressed, Wales began to exert more and more dominance in the contact area. Ian Evans and Richard Hibbard in particular put in some bruising hits, and scrum half Mike Phillips was proving that he’d saved his best performance for last. It was the scrum however where Wales really started to press their advantage home and as each free kick or penalty came their way they were visibly striking a physical and mental blow to England’s pack.
The best chance of a try for Wales in the first half came from a great break from winger George North as he brushed aside his opposite number Chris Ashton with ease. It was the other English winger, Mike Brown that was forced to cover back and make a super ankle tap tackle to send North crashing to the ground and which stopped an almost certain try.
England’s best chance came when they sucked in enough Welsh defenders to leave a glaringly large hole in the midfield, yet poor execution and handling skills let them down as Tuilangi dropped the ball.
Going into the break Wales led 9-3, so even though they were leading by six points, it still wasn’t enough for them to wrest the title out of English hands, even if it would deny them a Grand Slam.
The second half if anything got even more breathless. Wales were utterly unrelenting as they hit time and again into England’s defence deep in the 22. The English refused to give way and Wales could only come away with three points, although importantly it gave them the points difference needed to win the championship if they could hold onto it until the end of the match.
What followed next was just a sublime ten minutes of rugby from Wales. First was a great tackle and rip from replacement Welsh hooker Ken Owens. As he turned the ball over it was slotted quickly through Welsh hands until it found winger Alex Cuthbert. With just Mike Brown between him and the try line he backed his pace, and with a brilliant fend he ran clear to cross for a try.
A few minutes later, with Wales again attacking deep into English territory, fly half Dan Biggar calmly slotted a drop goal to give the defending champions a 20-3 lead.
Then came the highlight of the match. Started by no8 Toby Faletau’s superb footwork, at the following ruck back rower Sam Warburton saw the gap and launched himself through it, sprinting clear of English defenders. Brought to ground by Farrell, the ball was quickly recycled and it soon found the hands of the remaining back rower Justin Tipuric. Showing incredible pace and a clever rugby brain he sprinted down the pitch, burning past the chasing centre Brad Barritt and dummying wing Mike Brown with ease, before putting in the pass that saw Cuthbert cross for his second try. Biggar converted.
England to their credit kept on throwing everything they had at the Welsh yet there was no way through. Their best chance came as replacement fly half Toby Flood found himself bursting through into space just a few metres out yet the sold figure of Leigh Halfpenny was there to stop him.
Before the end, Wales earned themselves another shot at goal which fly half Biggar kicked, and they saw out the game, having more than beaten the 7 point winning margin that had been needed going into this game in order to retain the title.
Instead they had produced their best ever win against England in over 100 years. They had managed to retain the title for the first time since 1979. They had kept yet another team tryless against them for the fourth match in a row.
It was without a doubt one of the best performances over 80 minutes that a Welsh side has displayed for decades. As the teams collected their medals and the captains of the campaign Ryan Jones and Gethin Jenkins hoisted the trophy aloft it was almost with disbelief that fans cast their minds back to the first awful game against Ireland. It was just a few short weeks ago and yet there had been an utter transformation on the pitch.
Wales are once again the 6 Nations champions, the best side in the Northern Hemisphere and perhaps worryingly so for their rivals – they still have some of their best players yet to return to the squad.
Full time: Wales 30 – 3 England
Wales: Halfpenny; Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North; Biggar, Phillips; Jenkins, Hibbard, A Jones, AW Jones, Evans, Warburton, Tipuric, Faletau.
Replacements: Shingler for Roberts (75), Hook for Biggar (75), L Williams for Phillips (75), James for Jenkins (61), Owens for Hibbard (52), Coombs for Evans (70), S Williams for Warburton (75). Andrews for A Jones (72).
England: Goode; Ashton, Tuilagi, Barritt, Brown; Farrell, B Youngs; Marler, T Youngs, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Croft, Robshaw, Wood.
Replacements: Twelvetrees for Goode (64), Flood for Farrell (67), Care for B. Youngs (64), Vunipola for Marler (44), Hartley for T. Youngs (52), Wilson for Cole (72), Lawes for Launchbury (52), Haskell for Wood (67).