Let’s not make this yet another false dawn
SUPERLATIVES should abound for what is probably the greatest Wales victory in living memory but a warning from history should apply before laurels are polished too bombastically.
But first of all, unbridled praise, for the acclaim is richly deserved for these magnificent emperors who have retained the Six Nations – the first time Wales have won back to back tournament triumphs since 1979.
This was the best performance the hosts have ever produced in the professional era.
Well, that’s according to any home-grown journalist I spoke to in the aftermath of Saturday’s euphoria.
And I admit, I have to scratch my head to even remotely compare another one.
Forget the abyss of 1998’s 60-26 slaying at Twickenham by England or 1990’s equally savage 34-6 butchery in London, this was retribution on an almost Biblical scale.
Every dog has its day they say, and this was Wales’ payback, Old Testament style.
For Gethin Jenkins’ supermen destroyed a side who only a few short months ago put the mighty All Blacks to the sword.
In the weekend’s spectacular bloodbath, what England did to New Zealand, Wales trumped, a massacre of almost merciless carnage.
It can only have scarred English rugby psychologically for Chris Robshaw’s highly rated men were the favourites to leave Cardiff with a record 13th Grand Slam, their first since the heady days of 2003 when Martin Johnson’s men truly did rule the waves.
That England should leave emotional wrecks after being systematically stripped bare is an astounding achievement for a Wales side who were simply imperial.
For the home fans, this was a fantasy land where broken dreams became a surreal world, everyone leaving with a pot of gold on a stairway to a heaven only to be met by the keys to their own very own castle in the air.
A record win that smashed a record that had stood for 108 years was a delirious one.
The sublime openside Justin Tipuric, who could easily play at centre on the international stage, won the man of the match award, but in truth the award could have been claimed by half a dozen others – the equally magnificent Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton, Mike Phillips, Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert the other prime candidates.
But we should take this victory as a huge wake up call. Because Wales have consistently failed to build on monumental triumphs in the past.
Lazy clichés are a staple of the journalist’s armoury and this (idle) one can’t resist using one because where Wales are concerned, feast is all too sadly followed by famine.
The glories of the Grand Slam years of 2005, 2008 and that of last year were quickly followed by bitter disappointment of Wales’ failure, by and large, of kicking on and being unable to claim a series of southern hemisphere scalps.
It’s hard, irrational almost, to judge, but if Wales played like they did against a decent England side on Saturday when taking on the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, those good kills should start coming rather than the long shadow of glorious, but infuriating failure.
And this is where we can start learning from past mistakes because the worrying malaise of the regional game shouldn’t be allowed to escape the microscope.
Forget the risible Pro12, the Heineken Cup is where it’s at.
And with no Welsh side in the last eight this year and no realistic prospect of any of our four regions winning the prestigious tournament in the future, it is a serious cause for concern.
The ‘club’ game is dying at home with attendances reaching chronic proportions, all the focus these days on Team Wales.
The focus on the bigger picture is a commendable one but let’s have four strong regions who can compete with the best.
It’s true that 13 of the 15 who started on Saturday are based in Wales but Jamie Roberts is leaving the homeland at the end of the season and Toby Faletau is set to depart the Newport Gwent Dragons next year.
If the unquestionable talent in Wales can be kept here, the national side has a sparkling future.
Spain have been the most majestic of kings in the football world for the past five years, part of their intoxicating success fomented by the backbone of their team based in their mother other country, playing together at either Barcelona or Real Madrid.
And thank god Welshmen can scrummage again for they annihilated England on Saturday, colourful referee Steve Walsh in no mood to sympathise with the visitors who were pinged time and time again as their house of cards set piece folded time and again.
This championship triumph was won by the immense forwards who are even better than the grizzled warriors of the 1970s.
But if Herculean tighthead prop Adam Jones was injured, Wales would find themselves in a right pickle.
Likewise, should locks Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans go down with a bump (although the wonderful Andrew Coombs has been a revelation) it would severely test the side’s ability to compete with the best.
We just don’t have the strength in depth to compete with the world’s big players.
And that’s why supremo Roger Lewis should be working overtime to ensure this isn’t yet another false dawn and pave the way for our domestic game to be a far healthier one.
We could be on the cusp of something big here. Please don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers chief.
Please, let’s have no grand illusions, for the hard work starts now.