Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Davies cool about Welsh revival

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Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

England. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

THANK heaven for a still, small voice of calm amid the swaying emotion and unbridled acclamation that turned Cardiff into a city en fete deep into Sunday morning. This was more like a religious revival than a rugby match.

Imagine if the one-point margin had been the other way; no, it does not bear thinking about. Magnificent, heart-stopping, dramatic and traumatic - Welsh victory and English defeat were all of these. But the real significance of the upset at the Arms Park will be seen only in how each team now react. In both cases, they have entered unfamiliar territory.

Back to the still, small voice, in this instance that of Alan Davies cautioning against excessive euphoria (he has no chance) and pleading for Welshmen to regard their triumph as a means to an end and not an end in itself. The one thing the Wales coach can do without is the old, introspective mentality in which victory over England somehow outweighed every other consideration.

'People will say if we can beat England we can beat everyone else,' Davies said, disapprovingly - which, in fact, has a certain logic since no one in the championship had beaten England since Scotland denied them the Grand Slam in 1990.

But there is more to it than that: when Wales were thrashed by New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup their manager, Clive Rowlands, said they would have to go back to beating England every year, an infamously fatuous remark that has become ever more ludicrous while the Welsh have been consistently losing to the English.

'To beat England is always going to be the biggest emotional stepping-stone, the biggest emotional achievement that will ever happen to Wales - regardless even of winning the World Cup,' Davies said. 'But we want to become a world force in rugby and this win certainly doesn't do that, however much it helps.'

Wales go on to play Scotland at Murrayfield in a fortnight, while England have an inconvenient month's break before they meet the Scots at Twickenham. That, too, will be a fascinating reflection of altered priorities, both for selectors and for players, now that the gleaming prize of a triple Grand Slam is no longer available.

This is the first time since 1989 that England have had to lower their sights so early in the championship, the first time since then that they will go into a match needing to win it for its own sake. They promise to bounce back stronger than before but one could not help but wonder, as delirium swept over the Arms Park, whether success had finally become too familiar.

Perhaps one should guard against over-reaction. 'One defeat doesn't make you a bad team,' Will Carling, the England captain, told his players. 'To my mind you are still the best team England has produced. I believe we have something special and now is the time to let it shine through.' On the other hand, this sounded almost like a valediction, a wistful remembrance of how things were.

Carling has a point. England are still a better team than Wales, indeed were a better team than Wales on Saturday. But so what? Even Alan Davies conceded that England should have won - but then he could afford to smile as he said it. England had to make do with a stiff upper lip.

Rory Underwood needed one more than most. The decisive moment came when England led 9-3 and, after weathering the early storm, were assuming total control, and if Underwood replayed it a thousand times he surely would not make the same mistake again. To begin with, England had had the ball and lost it - a neat summation of their entire afternoon.

Whether it was base instinct or tactical genius that led Emyr Lewis to plant his relieving kick behind Underwood, it turned the England wing and the match. As Ieuan Evans gave chase, Underwood ambled back so slowly that he was overtaken. Evans booted ahead and beat Jon Webb to the rolling ball.

'I didn't see him coming,' Underwood winced. Nor, it seemed, did he hear him. 'The roar of the crowd hid the noise of my feet,' Evans suggested. Neil Jenkins added the conversion to his earlier long-range penalty and, with half- time approaching, all the scoring had been done.

It was a measure of English failure that they had not pierced, and thereafter could not pierce, the heroic Welsh defence. No more than 18 months ago resistance would have crumbled in such circumstances but this new Wales have the mental, as well as physical, strength to withstand a hammering and in the end England seemed to be waiting, Micawber- like, for something to turn up.

Webb, target of a silly pre- match TV publicity campaign which one paper said portrayed him as 'a bungling idiot', had kicked his first two penalties but then missed a couple and, with the game in its death throes, strangely declined to attempt a 50-yarder that would have won it.

His second miss bounced back off a post but this time a defender rather than Ian Hunter, the try- scorer against France, was the grateful recipient of the loose ball. Otherwise, Jeremy Guscott dropped a goal and twice when England insinuated themselves over the Welsh line they failed to ground the ball properly.

To that extent Wales had their share of fortune but, to give them their due, this was a victory based on solid improvement. Most obviously the line-out, which was unproductive for years, has become a source of steady supply and against England Gareth Llewellyn gave a prodigious exhibition of front-jumping which rescued Wales time and again when they were at their most vulnerable.

Tactically their vision was strictly limited, however. Neil Jenkins stuck the ball in the air and everyone else chased. And because he mostly did it well it worked - a lot better, at that, than anything else Wales attempted. When they did get themselves into decent positions they squandered them by losing their cool heads.

England's contrasting problem was that, if anything, they were too cool, too languidly certain that they would eventually find a way through. Dewi Morris, a Welshman in white, recaptured all the battering-ram zest that used to characterise his play for England, and Mike Teague, too, cut a dash. But, like when they lost to Scotland three years ago, when adversity called for a touch of genius it was not forthcoming.

More broadly, this may have something to do with the Englishman's reluctance to change - and the problems which the new laws have inflicted more on England than on any other home country. As long as they enjoyed the certainty of ploughing on from ruck to ruck and scrum to scrum, they were more or less invincible.

No longer.

Wales: Try I Evans; Conversion Jenkins; Penalty Jenkins. England: Penalties Webb 2; Drop goal Guscott.

WALES: M Rayer (Cardiff); I Evans (Llanelli, capt), M Hall (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Jones (Swansea); R Evans (Llanelli), N Meek (Pontypool), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), Gareth Llewellyn (Neath), A Copsey, E Lewis (Llanelli), S Davies, R Webster (Swansea).

ENGLAND: J Webb (Bath); I Hunter (Northampton), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), M Bayfield (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), M Teague (Moseley), B Clarke (Bath), P Winterbottom (Harlequins). Replacement: P de Glanville (Bath) for Hunter, 79.

Referee: J Dume (France).

----------------------------------------------------------------- FIVE NATIONS STANDINGS ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts France 2 1 0 1 26 19 2 Scotland 2 1 0 1 18 14 2 Wales 1 1 0 0 10 9 2 England 2 1 0 1 25 25 2 Ireland 1 0 0 1 3 15 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

To be played: 20 Feb: Ireland v France (Dublin); Scotland v Wales (Murrayfield). 6 Mar: England v Scotland (Twickenham); Wales v Ireland (Cardiff). 20 Mar: France v Wales (Paris); Ireland v England (Dublin).

(Photograph omitted)

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