Rugby Rugby

Wales boss eyes Six Nations’ Grand Slam


LONDON, England, February 26 – Warren Gatland was left contemplating the prospect of another Grand Slam after seeing his side edge England in a thrilling Six Nations Championship clash at Twickenham.

Wales won 19-12 to complete the Triple Crown — when one of the four Home Unions beats all the others in a single Championship season — and that left them looking forward to rounding off the tournament at home to Italy and France.

This was just Wales’s second win at Twickenham since 1988. The other success came four years ago when, in Gatland’s first game in charge, they triumphed 26-19 to spark what turned out to be a Grand Slam season.

And with Italy struggling and Wales desperate to avenge their heartbreaking World Cup semi-final loss to France, Gatland said another clean sweep was on the horizon.

“This is a young group with a little bit of experience who potentially could be outstanding,” said Gatland.

“We have a bit of depth throughout the side and it is a team to get excited about,” the New Zealander added.

“If we get a good win against Italy we can prepare with confidence for the game against France.”

Saturday’s clash was the first time World Cup semi-finalists Wales had secured a Triple Crown at the home of old rivals England but the match of the tournament thus far was a desperately close affair.

Heading into the final 10 minutes, the teams were locked at 12-12 after four penalties apiece from England’s Owen Farrell and Wales’s Leigh Halfpenny.

But Wales, with five minutes left, scored the only try of the match when replacement back Scott Williams stripped the ball from substitute England lock Courtney Lawes and, from nearly halfway, kicked ahead before chasing down and regathering, with Halfpenny then adding a conversion.

There was still time for England to launch one last attack and, with the final play of the match, wing David Strettle went over the Welsh line under challenge from Halfpenny, George North and Jonathan Davies.

There then followed several tense minutes before video referee Iain Ramage of Scotland ruled “no try”.

Wales were 12-6 down at one point and early in the second half they were reduced to 14 men when fly-half Rhys Priestland was sin-binned.

But with skipper Sam Warburton outstanding on his return to the side, Wales rallied to claim a dramatic victory.

“We played better with 14 men than 15,” said Gatland. “We were guilty of trying to move ball in first half without having earned that right.

“Keeping the ball in that 10 minutes was the turning point of the match,” the former Ireland and Wasps coach added.

Far from being a hero, Scarlets centre Williams might have been a ‘villain’ when before his stunning score he squandered what seemed a certain try by ignoring a two-man overlap and then being turned in the tackle.

However, it was not long before Williams — who’d come on at half-time for Jamie Roberts following a knee injury to his fellow midfielder — was sealing his place in Welsh rugby history.

“I said to him (Williams) in the changing room ‘Was that try to make up for the other one?’,” Gatland recalled. “He wasn’t very happy with himself.

“It’s nice to see it coming off. We work at ripping the ball off players and he’s ripped it out of Courtney Lawes’s arms and gone down the field. It came off and changed the game.”