Wales's positive desire secures their place in Six Nations history

Not since 1954 had Wales won the championship after losing their opening game.

Then, as in 1939 and 1947, they shared the title because teams were not separated on points difference. This year the trophy belongs to them alone, something that not even their most optimistic supporter would have predicted when they trailed Ireland 30-3 at home on the opening day.

Wales, after 30 years of one-off successes, became the history men. They retained the title for the first time since 1979, their win at Murrayfield in the fourth round established a new record for them of five consecutive away victories in the championship and, when they won in Paris last month, it was the first time they had defeated France in the tournament back-to-back since 1976.

Maturity has given Wales consistency. Perhaps most impressive about their biggest victory over England, another slice of history, was that their motivation was not to deny their greatest rivals the grand slam or silence the increasingly strident voices on the other side of the Severn Bridge but to win the title. It was about them.

They were fuelled by a positive desire, not a negative one, which they showed five minutes in when forwards off-loaded in contact in their own half. They took the game to England, mashing them up front, haunting them at the breakdown and thinking on their feet, putting the ball through hands or picking up and running straight at the breakdown depending on how England were aligned defensively.

When Warren Gatland took over as Wales's head coach at the end of 2008, one of the first things he told his players was that he would not tolerate anyone who reacted badly to personal disappointment, sappers as he called them. Individual desires and aspirations would always be subservient to those of the team.

Sam Warburton has had a year of ups and downs, leading Wales to the grand slam in 2012 and losing his place in the side, and the captaincy, 11 months later. Whatever disappointment or injustice he felt he kept to himself, the epitome of the selflessness Gatland demanded. Restored to the team against Scotland, although Ryan Jones remained captain, he responded with a man-of-the-match performance and he was majestic against England, a raptor with eyes wide open.

"Ryan said to the players the week after we lost to Ireland that you don't always have to win a championship with a grand slam, that you can do it even after losing a game," said Warburton. "The focus after that defeat was to make sure we won every game and we managed to achieve it. For me it is even better than last year's grand slam, the highlight of my career, because of the way we bounced back."

Like Warburton, Rob Howley, Wales's interim head coach with Gatland on Lions duty, treated failure and success the same. As his first six matches in charge ended in defeat, with both Argentina and Samoa storming the Millennium Stadium, his insistence that a good team had not become a bad one found fewer and fewer ears.

He was respectful towards England and did not glorify his side's success by painting England's title pretensions as a grand sham. He did ask aloud whether he had got his selection wrong against Ireland when he resisted his inclination to pair Warburton and Justin Tipuric, two open-side flankers, together in the back row.

Howley brought on Tipuric against Ireland as soon as they went 30-3 down. They were not to concede another try in the championship while scoring nine of their own and, if there is still a concern about Wales's creativity behind, something that cost them against Australia time and again last year, they have uncovered a clever footballer.

Tipuric was involved in Wales's two tries, appearing at outside-centre for both. For the first he passed to Alex Cuthbert outside him quickly, appreciating the wing had the room to get round his opposite number, Mike Brown, and the pace to see off the covering Owen Farrell. He held on to the ball for the second, having the pace to get away from Brad Barritt before committing Brown to take him on the inside and slipping the scoring pass to Cuthbert.

Much has been made of England's relative inexperience but it was only Tipuric's fourth start in the Six Nations and he was composed at the moments of reckoning. His skill helped decide the 2013 Six Nations and, unlike Wembley 1999, it was a game Wales won, not one England threw away.

Powered by article was written by Paul Rees at Millennium Stadium, for The Guardian on Sunday 17th March 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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