Warburton and Gatland wave red flag after 'HQ' falls

Captain and coach salute Triple Crown winners despite knowing Wales were some way below exhilarating best

Twickenham

Tom Jones was thinking this was highly usual. There he was looking down from the Twickenham stands and with 14 men on the pitch and 12-6 on the scoreboard his boys were yet again promising to make the journey back down the M4 with their hands as empty as their hearts. No, not a lot was too new, pussycat.

But then, shrugging off a record which read one win in 24 years at Twickenham, his national side switched on the will and found the way. This is the new Wales, a Wales that at least dozen of those teams who ventured east in all those blank years wouldn't recognise. For all the conjecture that England had been done, on the scoreboard Wales had got it done. And after all their close shaves, Warren Gatland confirmed that this is essentially all that counts. For the wannabes the future, for the prospective champions the present.

"I'm very proud," Gatland said. "This group of players have made a piece of history with the Triple Crown at Twickenham. This is a young group who have a little bit of experience."

And a little bit more after yesterday. Ladbrokes reported that this was the first time it had priced Wales as favourites at Twickenham since 1984. The team handled the expectancy and, for the first time in three years, overcame a team above them in the IRB rankings.

 



Do not underestimate what this added confidence could do for the red resurgence. As Gatland says, they have fresh looks but weathered boots. Wales had not won the Triple Crown in England before and if they had to pick anywhere, one would be forgiven for suspecting the Welsh would have chosen this venue – a place, which, for some reason, they have never felt comfortable in calling "HQ".

So now a third Grand Slam in eight seasons beckons: Italy first, then France. England and Ireland might disagree but it is set up for the decider and, dare we whisper it, for revenge after that World Cup semi-final heartbreaker.

Wales have built on the form from the World Cup, just as Gatland would have demanded . The Kiwi coach must believe that his adopted country's name is back on the Six Nations trophy after this enthralling contest.

"If we get a good win against Italy we can prepare with confidence for the game against France," he said.

"That was one hell of a Test match," said Sam Warburton who, himself, enjoyed one hell of a match. Wales had barely seen their captain in this Six Nations, a dead leg sustained in the first half of the opener in Dublin forcing his absence in Cardiff against Scotland, but how he reminded them of his supreme leadership.

Quite simply, Warburton was everywhere. They went to him at the line-out, they looked to him at the breakdown, England tried in vain to avoid him in the tackle. The hit he put in on as Manu Tuilagi had the whitewash in his eyeline should be burned on to DVD and sent out with coaching manuals. It had every ingredient in the perfect measure. Intent, aggression, timing, technique. One aspect slightly out place and Tuilagi would have been over.

Wales required their totem at his very best, because, in truth, as a collective they were a few notches below.

"We didn't play well at all today," said Warburton. And perhaps that was the most enticing factor for the Welsh to toast last night. They have won their 20th Triple Crown without really clicking. Look out when they do.

"Potentially, this side could be outstanding," said Gatland. "We have a bit of depth throughout the side and it is a team to get excited about."

Of course, their enormous back-line will continue to attract the most breathless of headlines. Yet among them all it was the little chap, the d'Artagnan amongst those musketeers, who was most influential. Leigh Halfpenny, all 12st of him, steadied his nerves after an opening penalty miss to kick 14 points and so add to the 22 he scored against Scotland.

"Pennies", as they call him, is far more than a pretty boot. His courage belies his size, his technique contradicts the convention. It might have been Jonathan Davies who squeezed under David Strettle to deny Toby Flood the shot at the draw at the death but it was Halfpenny who with expert cover and a complete lack of self-preservation, first deflected the seemingly irresistible momentum. Pennies was certainly from heaven at that moment, although as he lay there for a good five minutes afterwards, he wouldn't have felt eternal.

There were others being toasted last night. Scott Williams might have been the villain for not feeding Halfpenny when the line gaped, but that will be forgotten – his dispossessing of Courtney Lawes and then his kick-through and collect will be replayed time and time again.

"I never would have thought that I would score the winning try," said the young Scarlet. "But it's happened and it's unbelievable, really. I thought our defence was superb today. England threw everything at us, it was tough, but we stuck in there and managed to get home."

Meanwhile, Priestland will be relieved that his mediocrity was masked by the result. It plainly wasn't the fly-half's afternoon, even when it was his country's. His trip to the sin-bin was ghastly enough, but had the charge-down of his kick been scooped 10 seconds before, he would have been the one being toasted last night – by Gatland. Instead they were all celebrating a Triple Crown. At "Twickers", of all places.

The way forward: England show clear vision after World Cup hangover

World Cup hangover over?

Which one? This was the first Twickenham match with an England squad featuring not one survivor of the glory team of 2003. A line drawn, at last. As for 2011, and last autumn's hopeless misadventure in New Zealand, the new-look team captained by Chris Robshaw were greeted with choruses of 'Swing Low' and great support, suggesting misdeeds forgiven. Many players have been dropped or jettisoned, leaving a team in transition but at peace with their public.

Farrell forever

Jonny Wilkinson made his Six Nations debut as an 18-year-old in 1998; Owen Farrell has waited all of 20 years to enter the ancient Championship, but a similarly long future in England white awaits. Nerveless kicking yesterday was combined with just enough variety in his playmaking to confirm the young Saracen as a top prospect.

Nice but dim?

The RFU welcome their new chief executive Ian Ritchie to his first day at work tomorrow; the former All England Club boss will need for nerves of steel. The England team are as nice as pie these days but sometimes nasty things need to be done. Ritchie's task can be done quietly. England's forwards need to develop a harder edge.

Big is not so beautiful

Well done Wales but what price the game when most of their backs look better suited to the basketball court? England's defence mostly handled the giant invaders capably, until Courtney Lawes, of all people, coughed the pill up to try-scorer Scott Williams with a whimper. Williams' earlier blunder, tackled instead of passing or sidestepping, left you pining for the twinkling toes of his retired namesake Shane.

Gatland for the Lions, and where now for Lancaster?

An announcement is due on the 2013 Lions coach after this Six Nations, and the favourite Warren Gatland would have a fine CV if topped by his second Grand Slam after the one in 2008. Stuart Lancaster has his hat in the ring for the permanent England head coach role. His chance may have receded, but that was never the point. A restoration of English pride and order was the priority. In those senses, it is job done.

Hugh Godwin

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