Jonathan Davies: Gatland transforms Wales and curse of '88 is finally lifted

New coach and his trusty ally storm the Twickenham fortress as Hook's moment of brilliance kills off England
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The Independent Online

Thank God for that. Believe it or not, I have hated being reminded that I was in the last Wales team to beat England at Twickenham back in 1988. And thanks to the remarkable comeback staged by Warren Gatland's team yesterday, I shall not have to suffer any longer.

Twickenham has always been a tough place to go and win. I spoke to Gareth Edwards recently and he said it was the same, even back in the Seventies when Wales were winning regularly.

Nothing much has changed. England have always had big forwards and played a physical game. They did exactly that yesterday so it was staggering that Wales managed to withstand that first-half onslaught and turn the game on its head.

Everything England were doing right in the first half, they stopped doing in the second half. They played a totally different style, tried to develop an open game and throw the ball around and it went horribly wrong.

They simply imploded in that second half. Wales rushed and rushed at them, pressurised England into mistakes and had the nous to take the chances when they came.

James Hook was just brilliant in setting up the try that catapulted Wales back into the game. He didn't have a lot of room to work in but skinned Paul Sackey and Simon Shaw and somehow created space for Lee Byrne to score. It is a huge achievement for Wales, and the new coach Warren Gatland. He would have been relatively happy even at half-time. Wales had not had a lot of ball, they had kicked a lot of what they did have away and spilled most of the rest in contact. Despite all that Wales were only 10 points behind, but they were hanging on.

They had made an awful lot of tackles, twice as many as England in the first half and the danger was that, after putting in that kind of effort, they would tire in the second half.

England had a bit of luck early on when Jonny Wilkinson's swinging-arm tackle on Jonathan Thomas was not spotted by the referee. The citing commissioner may be interested in that incident, though. Wilkinson did not mean to knock Thomas out, he's not a malicious player, but his tackle was dangerous and he should have been punished.

Many Wales supporters were fearing Lesley Vainikolo, even when he was on the bench. Unfortunately for them he was into the action earlier than expected. He's obviously a threat physically but he showed fantastic technique in setting up Toby Flood's try.

Wales' blitz defence was caught out as a kick behind the opposition will neutralise any defenders rushing up to tackle. It was a clever move by England and one that Vainikolo has been involved with countless times in his rugby league career. He took the ball brilliantly in the air and then showed deft hands to put Flood in for the try.

It looked ominous for Wales at that point but their refusal to cave in says much about Gatland, and his defence coach and trusted ally, Shaun Edwards. They have worked on the mental approach of the players, telling them the game does not have to be complicated, just smash into the opposition, get over the gain line, then use your heads.

Shaun is a very intense character but has a shrewd rugby brain. Mental toughness was a big feature of his playing career and he has taken that into his coaching, trying to pass on those attributes to his players.

His approach, and Gatland's too, is just what Wales need at the moment. I have said before that there is a soft culture in Welsh rugby at the moment. The last two Wales coaches, Gareth Jenkins and Mike Ruddock, both allowed a lax atmosphere to develop around the squad but that won't happen now and that will be good for the Welsh players. Life will be a lot tougher under these two, but more enjoyable too if yesterday's events are anything to go by.

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