A field of dreams as Welsh end their long wait


Last updated at 21:02 02 February 2008

Once upon a time, they

saved all year, drank all

morning, swarmed on the

trains at Waterloo and

then spent the afternoon

praying for a miracle. It

rarely happened.

True, there were the halcyon days of

the Seventies, when all the gods wore

red jerseys but, by and large, the

travelling Welsh supporters were left

to curse their luck and the English who

ensured that it would be wretched.


for 20 years, that pattern has


Some things have changed. The

tickets can cost £68, a price not lightly

met from ordinary purses. And a

profusion of corporate troughers has

taken the old tribal edge off the


But down in South Wales, where they

love the game most and understand it

best, it still means everything. And

yesterday at the place the English call

HQ, they lived out their dreams.

This was the Welsh team cobbled

together from sheer necessity by a

new coach with his feet to find. This

was Wales in the guise of the Ospreys,

a group of players who knew each

other, understood each other and were

ultimately prepared to die for each


This was the team which had been

buried beneath 62 English points on

their last visit to Twickenham. And this

was the team which clambered from

the brink of yet another damaging

defeat to work a small miracle.

However limited England may seem,

their last competitive match was the

World Cup final.

Given a more benevolent replay

judge, England might just have

worked the trick in Paris. Wales might

have been taking on the world champions

yesterday. You sense that their

approach would have been precisely

the same.

You do your work and you make your

luck. You live off scraps and pretend

it's a feast. You never shirk a tackle,

never flinch from a challenge, never

duck a confrontation.

It was the application of these timeless

principles which served the old

teams of Wales so proudly.

Nobody would pretend that this present

assembly is blessed with such

skill, but they do not recognise a lost

cause and their spirit carried them


In the final minutes of an attritionally

tense and curiously memorable match,

Twickenham's perennial hero, Jonny

Wilkinson, wore the look of a man who

had been battered into bewilderment.

By contrast, James Hook was parading

his skills like a prince.

The Welsh love their out-halves,

from Barry to Jonathan and beyond.

Without burdening him with crass

comparisons, Hook can take his place

on the pedestal this morning.

He, more than anybody, organised

the revival, put England into a quite

different perspective, found the kind

of form that England had not expected

to confront.

Yet the start had seemed to confirm

all the fears of the Wales coach Warren

Gatland. He confessed that his

team were awed by the sheer size and

hostility of England's huge forwards,

Andrew Sheridan and Simon Shaw

foremost among them.

And that was how it began, with

England swaggering, oppressing,

bullying at the front and enjoying more

possession than the Welsh could


The turnovers were secured almost

to order — six within the opening halfhour

— and the Twickenham assembly

agreed that an old, familiar script was

being written.

At that stage, it seemed that James

Haskell, the Wasps flanker, might win

the thing by his own efforts, so voracious was his plundering, so vigorous

his strength and control.

At this time, Wales were hanging

on; not so much competing as trying

to avoid a rout.

It was now that all those generations

of tradition seemed to kick in.

They lived off their wits, fashioned

their slender chances, refused to

concede the English the victory they

expected by right.

Of course, they enjoyed their own

piece of fortune, never more than

when Paul Sackey's 'try' was marginally

disallowed just before the


But as the match wore on, the

miracle took shape. Twickenham

was hushed.

Up there in the hospitality boxes,

the sandwiches were pushed aside

and the cocktails went untasted. The

battle was turning and experienced

internationals like Iain Balshaw and

Wilkinson seemed to be losing

their nerve and judgment.

Brian Ashton, the England head

coach, sat in the stand and wore the

expression last seen in the early

stages of last autumn's World Cup,

when humiliation seemed to loom.

The match was slipping away, and

nothing could be done.

Mike Phillips charged down

Balshaw's kick and fled to the

English line. Hook, enjoying his role

as the hammer of the English,

landed two conversions from the

line with the air of a maestro. The

cause had been saved, the victory

had been improbably secured.

The man on the Twickenham

microphone was, for once, lost for


Then, as the red-clad hordes went

capering out into the evening, he

burbled: "Well, there's certainly

plenty to talk about after that


Those who heard him paused to

chuckle, but most were on their way

to the first of several celebratory


Twenty years is a long time to wait

but this victory was worth that wait.

In fact, they will talk about it for


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