Rugby Union: Five Nations'Championship: Just reward for commitment to revival: John Hopkins sees a triumph for the virtues of organisation and endeavour

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

SEAGULLS wheeled overhead and the sun glinted through the flagpoles at the Taff end of the ground as the national anthem died away. At that moment Nigel Meek, Wales' new hooker, put his arms around his two front-row team mates, Ricky Evans and Huw Williams-Jones and 'Land of My Fathers' rang around the packed and tense stadium.

It was an act of twofold significance: the front row were shouldering arms all right but they were also linking arms against the battle ahead, men united against whatever England could do to them.

Eighty minutes later the stadium was awash with red. Wales had ended England's chances of a third Grand Slam with one of the most outstanding defensive performances ever seen at Cardiff. England, who had scraped home against the French, could not do it again despite exerting enormous pressure.

A piece of the posts had helped them at Twickenham when Ian Hunter scored a try from a ball that rebounded from an upright; a piece of the posts may have denied them victory yesterday. Wales led 10-9 and 15 minutes remained when a penalty by Jon Webb rebounded from the left upright.

At the final whistle the pitch was invaded. The Princess of Wales stood and applauded, a shy smile on her face at the antics that had unfolded in front of her and were now going on all around her. Men fell into each other's arms. 'We did it' they said. 'We beat them.'

Indeed they had. Wales had been outplayed and they had been given a gift of a try when Rory Underwood seemed to fall asleep in attempting to gather a loose ball. As he dozed Ieuan Evans scooted past him, hacked the ball on and touched down. It was a mistake that will haunt Underwood for the rest of his days. Was it this mistake, his mistake, that cost England a third Grand Slam?

It was a thrilling game, the pride and passion of the Welsh in defence more than overcoming the ingenuity of the English in attack. At the end Wales had won their 48th victory over the men they want to beat more than any other.

It was hard to reconcile this Wales, this aggressive, pugnacious and supremely organised Wales, the team that stopped England from scoring in the second half yesterday with the Wales who conceded 24 points at Twickenham less than one year ago.

'For a revival to get under way Wales have to start winning' Geoff Cooke, England's manager said, talking of Wales in the calm of Friday evening. 'Until tomorrow it hasn't happened. If they win they can claim they have started a revival. Until then they are just talking about it.'

They are talking about it now. There were long spells when England could and should have run away with it. Their scrum was strong, their back row magnificent. England might have scored three tries if their players had not been held up on the line and Mike Teague once side-stepped Wayne Proctor as if the Welshman was carved in stone. And as for Webb, suffice to say that if one ever has to go on to the marble slab for repairs, one hopes that the men wielding the knife is Webb.

Organisation was always said to be Alan Davies' strongest suit. It showed. Wales' line-out was better than ever and Gareth Llewellyn played the game of his life. Whatever England did, Wales had a counter. Much of it was to do with fire and commitment.

But some of it was to do with the cracks that had appeared in England's team as early as the Canadian game. This is not the team that reached the World Cup final. It is not the team that won a second Grand Slam. The old England would have pierced Wales's defensive shield again and again. This England could not. Give Wales their due, they deserved to win.

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