The news for the Six Nations is that the champions are alive and burning with desire, as they demonstrated against Australia in Cardiff last night.
The Welsh produced a superb performance - their forwards destroyed the Australian scrum, the backs attacked with élan and the whole team defended like demons. It was the display of a quality side who, it must be remembered were without five Lions. But the stand-ins did them proud with a tigerish display. Trying to pick out an individual hero was impossible.
There was a wildness to Wales from the kick-off. But it was controlled. The handling was slick and the strength in the tackle was immense. Gareth Thomas had the Australians backpedalling inside 30 seconds when he produced a delicate chip over the advancing defence and gathered it by inserting himself between two men. The captain then dragged his would-be tacklers some 15 metres before going to ground.
There were two marvellous moments early on. The first was when Shane Williams produced a bit of footwork that would have won him a place in Michael Flatley's Riverdance troupe. It mesmerised Australia's left wing Drew Mitchell and Williams suddenly darted inside.
The ball passed through a dozen pairs of hands, one of which belonged to the loose-head prop Duncan Jones. If Williams had the crowd on the edge of their seats, then Jones' sidestep to leave George Smith for dead had them on their feet, cheering Jones and jeering the mortified Aussie.
Moments later, however, it was Australia's turn to laugh. From a line-out on the far side the Wallabies spun the ball out. Mat Rogers looped round and sent Lote Tuqiri steaming through a gaping hole in the Wales defence for a simple try. The conversion did not leave Wales too far behind, since they had already slipped into the lead with a fourth-minute penalty.
There were some fabulous passages of play by both sides. One saw the Australian flanker Phil Waugh charging to the left-hand corner, but the Wales wing Dafydd James launched himself, missile-like, at the rampaging Wallaby and saved a certain try.
James was in action again within half a minute, this time absolutely flattening Mitchell. As the ball bobbled free it was scooped up by a black-shirted Welshman. If Stephen Jones had managed to hang on to a pop-up pass by Martyn Williams he could have scored a try.
The Australians clearly found the muddy surface of the Millennium Stadium pitch a lot more tricky to master. Wales fairly skated over it, whereas at times the Wallabies wallowed. The Wales line-out was not under too much pressure before the interval and their handling in the loose was exhilarating. Every Welshman seemed able to make ground, even with a Wallaby or two hanging on to their back or, as seemed often to be the case, around their neck.
The Wales scrum looked solid too. Pressure was put on the rookie tight-head David Fitter as the interval approached, and he cracked. Wales won a penalty as the front row went down and Stephen Jones narrowed the gap to a single point as the half ended.
Within two minutes of the start of the second half the Wallabies went further ahead when the full-back Chris Latham slipped through a clutch of attempted tackles and popped up a pass for the lock Nathan Sharpe, who plunged over.
The set-piece was way beyond the visitors' control, though, and a thrice-collapsed scrum and the subsequent award of a penalty try confirmed that. Shortly afterwards the beleaguered Fitter was replaced by Al Baxter.
The Dragons were still breathing fire and when Martyn Williams won possession of another loose ball Wales shipped it left. Shane Williams chipped ahead, and although he could not retrieve the ball his captain Gareth Thomas was on hand to collect it and deliver a perfect pass out of the tackle.
Williams raced clear of Tuqiri for the try. Although Stephen Jones missed the conversion he made no mistake with a penalty a couple of minutes later. There then followed Australia's third try, Latham winning the race to Tuqiri's chip ahead to set up a tense finish before the whole of Wales could celebrate.
Wales: G Thomas (Toulouse); D James, M Watkins (both Llanelli Scarlets), S Parker, S Williams (both Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), G Cooper (Newport-Gwent Dragons); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), C Horsman (Worcester), I Gough (Dragons), R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), M Owen (N-G Dragons). Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester) for Thomas, 36-40; A Jones (Ospreys) for Horsman, 51; C Sweeney (N-G Dragons) for S Jones, 80.
Australia: C Latham (Queensland); M Gerrard (ACT), L Tuqiri, M Turinui (New South Wales), D Mitchell (Queensland ); M Rogers (NSW), G Gregan (ACT, capt); M Dunning (NSW), B Cannon, D Fitter (both Western Australia), H McMeniman (Queensland), N Sharpe (Western Australia), J Roe (Queensland), P Waugh (NSW), G Smith (ACT). Replacements: A Baxter (NSW) for Fitter, 53; M Chisholm (ACT) for McMeniman, 74; C Whitaker (NSW) for Gregan, 59; W Sailor (NSW) for Gerrard, 65.
Referee: T Spreadbury (England).Reuse content