RBS 6 Nations 2012 Review: Wales

A third Grand Slam in eight years, another subsequent Triple Crown to add to the collection and a player voted the Six Nations’ best. This was a tournament of great success for Warren Gatland’s side – and there is undoubtedly more to come.

It’s easy to forget that Wales’ chances were roundly dismissed heading into their tournament opener against Ireland. Missing the likes Dan Lydiate, Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins, Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones, many felt their tournament hopes would be extinguished with a morale-destroying defeat. Not for the first time in the last six months, Wales defied public opinion.

Two excellent Jon Davies tries, the second from a superb George North off-load, were cancelled out by tries from Rory Best and Tommy Bowe but North struck to give Wales hopes with minutes to spare. Referee Wayne Barnes then deemed Stephen Ferris to have tip-tackled Ian Evans, and Leigh Halfpenny displayed the type of calmness that characterised his tournament to kick Wales to victory.

They took rather longer to get going against Scotland before a try from Alex Cuthbert and a double from Halfpenny saw them comfortably home, and that was followed by a heart-stopping victory at Twickenham, where England became the second team to come desperately close to stopping Gatland’s charges.

Amid all the early drama there had been some sparkling performances. Substitute Scott Williams stole the limelight in the England game with a piece of brilliant daylight robbery, but it was Sam Warburton and his back-row colleagues who were beginning to get the praise they deserved. Warburton had already been forced off against Ireland before missing the Scotland game, but he returned with a man of the match-winning effort, brilliantly helped by Lydiate and Toby Faletau.

Behind the scrum, others were beginning to make their mark in the tournament. Davies’ two-try haul in the opener was eye-catching, but it was the energy that he brought into the side’s backline that really stood out. His partnership with Jamie Roberts was beginning to thrive, while North’s early bulldozing runs seemed to galvanize Cuthbert, who began to offer a similar threat.

Many were disappointed with Wales’ inability to put Italy to the sword, but a try from Roberts and another for Cuthbert sealed a comfortable win where Lydiate again showed his excellent work-rate as his team conceded just three points. Scores elsewhere had left Wales huge favourites to take the Six Nations final heading into the last weekend though the Grand Slam was still in the balance against a French side eager to make amends for defeat against England.

Wales’ performance was steady if not inspiring, but it was still greeted with the same rapturous celebrations that have greeted the last two in recent times. Another gargantuan display from Lydiate was rightly rewarded with the man of the match trophy, while an expertly taken try from Cuthbert suggests Wales may well have found a fearsome wing pairing to take them through many years.

Mention of Wales’ other top performers should also not be forgotten. Jones and Jenkins were the proverbial rocks in the scrum, Warburton excelled despite injury, Faletau controlled the side excellently from the base and Evans was perhaps one of the best second rows in the tournament.

It’s easy to extol the virtues of this Welsh outfit, and another who must deserve credit, along with his coaching team, is Gatland. One caveat that must come with such success is that Gatland will be deemed the perfect candidate to take the Lions to Australia next year. Among the options, his achievements are largely without parallel – and you’d be a brave man to bet against the Lions captain being Welsh.

As for the time being though, Wales now move on to a summer three-test series of their own against Australia, where their mettle will be truly tested. But as worthy Six Nations champions, there is no better side right now to represent the Northern Hemisphere against Robbie Deans’ Wallabies.

by Tom James

15 thoughts on “RBS 6 Nations 2012 Review: Wales

  1. Any else think that the Welsh team aren’t as great as all the hype. Might have been a completely different story if they hadn’t mugged Ireland and England in the last few minutes of those 2 games. Could easily have been played 5, won 3, lost 2. Credit for the mugging and great teams win the tight games also, but let’s not get carried away

    1. I don’t think anyone is saying they’re great but they’re still better than all the other Northern Hemisphere sides (at the moment). They have a lot of promise, as do England, it’s a shame the Irish coach is frightened to use his young talent. I think all the Northern Hemisphere sides may well get destroyed by the Southerners for the rest of the year.

      1. There’s definitely a lot more to come from this Wales side. A lot of players in key positions were working their way back from injury – and that’s not to mention Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts, both integral players, both being hit by injuries (pretty sure Roberts played a few games less than 100%).

        The Strettle non-try needed a very difficult conversion from out wide (from a fly half who had yet to kick in the game) to simply draw the match. Not win.

        Wales were arguably fortunate in the Irish game, but who’s to say they might not have got the winning points if Ferris’ tackle hadn’t been deemed a penalty anyway.

        It’s all ifs and buts really, and I don’t think anyone can say Wales weren’t the best side in the Six Nations this year.

    2. Where is this hype? Wales are being rightly lauded as GS champs, but each piece always mentions that sterner tests are head and we won’t be able to tick the “great team” box until we’ve done the business down south. There is no hype, but there is no arguing that it was played 5 won 5. All top end games come down to the sort of tight margins you describe – if Chargedown Charlie hadn’t been on the pitch perhaps we’d be here discussing how bad Lancaster was? The true measure of Wales being a good team (good, not great … yet :-)) was that they were on the right side of those tight margins every single time. Once or twice is lucky, 5 times is performance and skill.

  2. Any else think that the English team aren’t as great as all the hype. Might have been a completely different story if they hadn’t mugged Scotland and Italy in the last few minutes of those 2 games. Could easily have been played 5, won 2, lost 3. Credit for the mugging and great teams win the tight games also, but let’s not get carried away.

    There we go Cookie, i fixed it for you.

    1. Anarky… who is talking about England?

      Bad year for the 6 Nations in my opinion. Of the serious contenders: France – woeful. Irish – woeful. English – woeful at times but better than most expected.

      Moggy – I agree. Acid test in the summer for the touring sides.

      1. Love it. Knew it wouldn’t be long before I heard (again) that this has been a bad 6 nations because France and Eng didn’t dominate it… :-)

  3. Cookie… My point being that your original post is a typical ‘if my aunty had balls’ scenario, which you can apply to any team.

    Wales aren’t a great side and are winning which is great for them.

    As has been said many times though, the real tests begin in the summer, for all the NH sides.

  4. I enjoyed this six nations, Wales won a grand slam despite the consistently nagging feeling that they could be playing up at least another two gears. In comparison to the underdog highs of 2005 & 2008 when Wales won what turned out to be glorys built on sand this feels more like a start to something different. Wales 11-9 victory in 2005 was followed up by a 47-13 walloping the next year – I cant see that happening this time around.

  5. Wales were worthy winners of the tournament, and as Tom and others have said, they had several key players injured both for the opening game and at other times throughout this tournament.

    That said, there are, as far as I see, three areas of mild concern for Gatland, Edwards, Howley et al:

    1. Hooker – Rees improved things against France, but line-out was the weak point of Wales throughout the tournament

    2. Second Row – the big concern must be whether Charteris regains the World Cup form. Evans did reasonably well, but I still feel that the lineout is the weak point of a strong pack.

    3. Fly-half – Priestland was found out in this tournament. A lot will depend on what he learns from the experience. Maybe we see why the Welsh fought to keep Shingler from going to Scotland now? ;-)

    My Teams of the Tournament had 12 Welshmen in (out of 30 places) with hooker, 1 second row and fly half being the ones to miss out.

    There’s a big swagger about the Welsh at the moment, and I think if you had to pick a team to go on a 3 Test tour of this summer, Australia would be the one. I hope for the sake of European Rugby that Wales take at least one test from the home side.

    1. Totally agree,

      They were worthy winners, they won their tight games and that is the mark of champions, they have a calm and a confidence about them which is probably the most impressive thing about them.

      They have more strength in depth than I thought but some positions are weak, I wouldn’t count second row as one of them. Fly half is an issue, Priestland needs top vary his game, he is very dependent on Roberts. Their general approach which is a good one needs to vary a little, they need to create a plan B.

      The main concern is the frontrow, Jenkins Rees and Jones are 3 to match anybody in the world but they are getting on and they tend to break, there is little to no back up, especially for Jones. Wales need to work on that area.

      I am hoping for the best against Aus but the Aussies have dispatched this Welsh team with relative ease the last 2 times they have played.

      I agree the 6N was terrific entertainment, I enjoyed it trimeniuosly but the quality was lacking in certain moments, I feel the summer will be a reality check for a few teams.

      The basic skills of the SH players is still much higher, which allows them to play at a higher speed. We shall see.

      Good luck to Wales

  6. Probably the most satisfying aspect was that the other sides knew how Wales were going to play and did their best to stop it but they still won anyway unlike 05 or 08 where Wales suprised everyone.They changed from some narrow losses in the World Cup to some narrow wins in the Six Nations usually a sign of a maturing side still on the upward curve .

    The changed game plan against France wasn’t pretty but it was Cup Final winning stuff and does show Wales can change tactics .The acid test will now be to see if this squad can kick on against the Southern Hemisphere sides .

    A pity that a few people always seem to think it’s a “bad” ie weak year for the Six Nations when Wales get a Grand Slam .

    1. Chip on your shoulder? How many teams other than Wales hit top form or showed any consistent world-class (competing with Southern hemisphere) rugby? Exactly… it was a weak year for the 6 Nations.

      1. It’s not having a chip on your shoulder to bristle at the statement “poor championship” when your team has just won the Grand Slam. It’s mealy mouthed and sounds bitter to dismiss a teams achievements just because you think the teams that should be better than Wales are no longer so. When did any of the NH teams ever be consistently world class against the SH sides? We’d need to go back to Eng in 02/03, so do we dismiss all the 6 nations since then? England won a pretty poor one last year? The Irish Grand Slam can be dismissed?

        There is some sense in what you are saying if you mean that the best NH side is rarely a match for the best SH side, but that doesn’t mean the 6 nations is worthless or not up to the scratch of previous years just because team X wasn’t, in your opinion, any good this year. England were woeful through most of last century. France could barely play rugby when they started. Scotland were a great team in the 90s. It’s up and down all the time, don’t denigrate one countries achievements just because you perceive them as perenially inferior and don’t expect to avoid combative responses when you try and dismiss our Grand Slam achievements.

        1. Ta brighty well put usually I rise above it but this is the third time round that some of the usual suspects have come out with this weak Six Nations stuff .

          I do mention that the SH tour is the acid test but this does not diminish the achievement of a Grand Slam.

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