James Lawton: Merv the Swerve's legacy appears safe in the hands of Lydiate and Halfpenny
They understand what they have to do to become strong in the international game
The Welsh Grand Slammers may not have turned the valley skies into the most luxuriant crimson but who could not be warmed by the glow of their achievement, by that sense that they had been faithful to the ultimate demand made by all true professionals?
It is that you deliver the very best that you have and if Dan Lydiate and Leigh Halfpenny happened to exceed dramatically their particular quotas, each one of their team-mates had reason to leave the field with bone-deep pride.
Lydiate, who hit such remarkable heights in his resistance to the idea that the French might delve into a neglected corner of their game and produce spoiling brilliance, dedicated the victory to the fallen hero Mervyn Davies and in an age too often swamped by the easy platitude, this one was mined from a seam of the highest quality.
The brilliant flanker wasn't born when the great man put down his headband but it would be impossible to have embraced such a legacy with more spirit or accomplishment.
Lydiate not only brought the deeds of the old hero back to vivid life, he also offered a sturdy platform for the future. In such young hands, Wales surely have the means to build on all the promise first signalled by that superb but ill-fated impact on the last World Cup in New Zealand.
They may, as some of their critics suggested amid the wild celebrations, have work to do in such matters as that old and glorious spontaneity of the Welsh game. They may need to acquire a little more swagger, not for the sake of mere results but a greater sense of their own powers and possibilities.
Yet at this point these are, surely, gnat bites on a body of inspiring work. While England continued their resurrection under the impressive interim coach Stuart Lancaster – albeit on this occasion with the help of Irish opponents who seemed most intent on parodying the best values of their own game – the Welsh plainly are one Grand Slam and several years ahead.
The achievement of Warren Gatland and his coaching staff is one that may well carry the team beyond the eruptions of their two most recent triumphs in the Six Nations. It is not only to identify so cleanly their best players but also to encourage men like Lydiate and Halfpenny, the young captain Sam Warburton and fly-half Rhys Priestland to create their own ethos.
It is one that at the weekend simply carried too much all-round strength for the enigmatic but still formidable France, one that, let's not forget, came so close so recently to ambushing the All Blacks in a World Cup final.
This Welsh team may lack the extraordinary wit and reach of talent enjoyed by Merv the Swerve's team, Halfpenny may not yet be JPR or Priestland a Barry John or a Phil Bennett, but in a different age and a different game they have plainly established their ability to compete at the highest level.
This, rather than the most explosive performance – though the try of the latest behemoth, Alex Cuthbert, was not so shabby in the detonation department – was the truest justification for the Cardiff euphoria. Wales, quite simply, played to their formidable strengths. If they are chastised for a certain lack of boldness, they also have to be praised for their refusal to surrender an inch of hard-gained achievement. Priestland's long kicking gave the French a growing sense that they were walking backwards and there was always the feeling that whatever they did, Wales would have a counter according to the demands of any one situation.
Back in New Zealand, Gatland said the key to his young team's development was a professional understanding of what it would take to move into the elite of the game. The coach deflected credit for the discipline, on and off the field, which stood in such sharp contrast to the anarchy of England. He said it was largely self-motivated.
"They understand," said Gatland, "what they have to do to if they are to become strong at the top of the international game. It is something we haven't had to tell them twice." Now it appears to be stamped into their psyche.
The French, inevitably, had their moments but none of them threatened the reality of which side was more likely to win. It was one imposed by Lydiate and Halfpenny, Priestland and Toby Faletau, and not least a front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matt Rees and Adam Jones that seemed capable of ransacking any match, any saloon – an unstaunched conviction indeed shared by every member of the squad.
Lydiate said that what they did was one for the late Mervyn Davies. It was certainly that but also a marker for themselves. One that says the championship of Europe might just be a start.
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