Welsh Lion kings eye Aussie scalps
Rob Howley forecast several Wales players would be returning to Australia with the British and Irish Lions after they retained their Six Nations title.
Rob Howley forecast several Wales players would be returning to Australia with the British and Irish Lions after they retained their Six Nations title with a record-breaking 30-3 win over England.
Saturday's Millennium Stadium mauling of their arch-rivals saw Wales deny England of both a first Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003 and the Six Nations title.
Instead it was Wales, Grand Slam winners last year, who emerged as champions instead as they surpassed their previous record margin of victory against England of 25-0 set way back in 1905.
Among the crowd of more than 74,000 gathered under the Millennium Stadium's closed retractable roof was Lions boss Warren Gatland, on secondment to the combined side from his 'day job' as Wales coach.
Although there's still a while left before Gatland has to select the squad for a tour that starts in June, the Six Nations, and this match especially, is sure to have a huge bearing on the Kiwi's thinking.
Up front, Wales dominated England at the scrum, with prop Adam Jones outstanding, while flanks Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric were commanding at both the breakdown and in the loose.
Two second-half tries from Wales wing Alex Cuthbert ended England's resistance, with Leigh Halfpenny - on course to be the Lions' full-back in Australia - kicking four penalties and fly-half Dan Biggar adding a drop-goal, conversion and a penalty.
"As a player you know coming into a Championship in a Lions year how important your performances are going to be," said Howley, himself a former Wales and Lions scrumhalf.
"They are under the microscope throughout the Championship and they performed as you would expect today (Saturday), they turned up."
Last year Wales lost a series in Australia 3-0 but all three defeats - 27-19, 25-23 and 20-19 - were by narrow margins.
"Having lost that series 3-0 I thought we came away from Australia in relatively good shape and that wasn't really portrayed in the media," said Howley who, prior to Saturday's match had overseen a run of five straight Wales defeats in Cardiff.
"Those lessons you have as coaches and players, you need to learn from and you saw in 80 minutes we've learnt a bit in six months," said Howley, who has also helped steer Wales to a record five successive away Championship wins.
And there was a further 'down under' element to Wales's triumph, with the hosts getting on the right side of Kiwi-born Australian referee Steve Walsh.
"I thought we showed great discipline in the scrum in particular and it was a scrummaging contest," said Wales forwards' coach Robin McBryde.
"Credit to Steve Walsh, I thought he managed the area very well."
Wales's first back-to-back Championship title success since 1979 was all the more creditable as it came after a 30-22 first round loss at home to Ireland where Tipuric didn't come off the bench until the second half.
"I thought the performances of Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton [against England] were outstanding," Howley said.
"Sam showed outstanding ball-carrying ability as well as pressure on the ball, and I think Justin Tipuric is a very clever, astute rugby player who puts players into space.
"As a coach you get it wrong some times and I probably got it wrong against Ireland. But today it worked and I'm delighted. It's probably the best day of my coaching career."
Gethin Jenkins, Wales captain in the absence of the injured Ryan Jones, revealed how the team had responded from their defeat by Ireland.
"Behind closed doors we talked about how we were going to build ourselves back and those three games away from home built our team spirit and, today, to finish that off was great for us.
"We just stuck tight. To get that win against England, to stop them winning the Grand Slam as well, the boys are ecstatic."