It is common knowledge that Wales only won the Grand Slam because they have Shaun Edwards, an Englishman; and Warren Gatland, a Kiwi; and they had Iain Balshaw playing for them at Twickenham. They played okay but had the luck of the bounce. They were in this position three years ago and stuffed it up – they will inevitably do it again. This is another false dawn.
These are just some of the barbs with which Englishmen throughout the land will be attempting to wind up the nearest Welshman. And the Welsh will simply be able to smile smugly and invite the English to ‘show us yer medals’.
Sadly none of the above is actually particularly true. Wales won the Grand Slam because they have very good players, played fantastically well as a team and were the best side in the tournament by a distance. However begrudging some of the congratulation being aimed their way by disillusioned Saxons, they heartily deserved their success.
We may have to get used to it as well. Many of this Welsh team are young and this time they are likely to retain their hunger. 2005 was the ultimate false dawn and many of the players looked like they felt they had made it. I’d like to see the players team up and try to overthrow Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards. Good luck with that boys, you may not live to tell the tale.
There is absolutely no reason why Wales should not be there or thereabouts in the 6 Nations all the way up to the 2011 World Cup and beyond. They have the players, the coaching structure and staff and there should be no shortage of desire in such a rugby-mad country. If they shake off their traditional inferiority complex when playing the Southern Hemisphere, they could even challenge for the next World Cup. They share with Ireland a lack of belief when playing the Tri-Nations and look as though they do not expect to win. They should no longer have any fear.
The traditional Welsh weaknesses have been ironed out extraordinarily quickly. Their scrum was competitive, they were physical around the fringes and their defence was organised, aggressive and nigh on impregnable. Ally that to the traditional strengths of pace, skill and ambition and the rest of the world should be a little scared.
The key thing now for Wales is to realise that this is when the hard work starts. After the 2005 Grand Slam they failed to win a match in 2006. Amusing as this was, it was also a little tragic to see players with such ability playing with no direction or conviction. Gatland and Edwards will not let this happen. They have both known sustained success and know precisely what to do to achieve it.
So hearty congratulations to Wales, and while we are at it to the RFU for bottling it after the World Cup and letting possibly the finest coaching team in the world fall into the hands of one of our rivals. How comforting for us Englishmen to know that the game in this country is run by indecisive invertebrates.
by Stuart Peel