Rugby Union / Five Nations' Champuionship: Fond memories are made of this: Ken Jones on a trip to Twickenham that Wales are looking forward to

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The Independent Online
NO LONGER the January trip of Max Boyce's repertoire - 'A long weekend in London, aye, without a bit of kip' - but next month will do nicely.

Out of gloom, astonishingly thoughts of a Grand Slam to be achieved at Twickenham no less, HQ as Boyce facetiously sang of it when Barry and Gareth, Mervyn, Gerald and J P R were in their pomp.

At the turn of the year it was unthinkable. Played three, won three - it never entered Alan Davies's mind. 'I knew there was a lot there to come out, but no, I didn't imagine we'd be where we are now,' chuckled the Welsh coach. 'This was a massive victory.'

A short while ago, Davies thought it to be massively improbable. So much innuendo, typical of Welsh rugby, that it seemed his days were numbered. A loss to Canada at the Arms Park was more than the Welsh nation was prepared to suffer. When Scotland came to Cardiff last month, Davies's job unquestionably was on the line.

In another game, in another time, Sir Alf Ramsey pointed up a hazard of responsibility in sport. 'Managers (coaches) get too much credit and too much blame,' he said.

But if it is the players who have raised Welsh rugby beyond all recent expectations, Davies and Bob Norster deserved all the praise they were getting on Saturday. 'We've nagged away at the players and they have responded marvellously. They'll be busting a gut to get out at Twickenham.'

Not perfect by any means. A handsome 17-3 lead dissolved during 20 minutes of adventurous French attacks in the second half, and had Thierry Lacroix not experienced a day when he might have struggled to put one over on a Subbuteo cloth, there might be a different story to tell. At 17-15, almost into injury time, Lacroix tried again. Welsh hearts stood still. Thoughts were of Callard at Murrayfield two weeks ago, but Lacroix was not up for the challenge. To a roar of relief, his kick barely reached the 22-metre line.

There was more to come and eventually the news from Twickenham raised a great cheer. 'What a bloody marvellous day,' somebody said. 'This and England beaten.'

Revivals have a way of going wrong; peril in expectation. Twickenham next month will be as hard for Wales as it was always going to. The big difference between now and the dark days is a renewal of confidence. 'You do the same things but they are only right when you win,' Davies said. There was a red scarf around his shoulders and a smile on his face. You could not have found a more satisfied man anywhere.

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