24.2.2003 Wales 9-26 England
[icWales] WALES restored pride with a passionate effort at an atmospheric Millennium Stadium, but the true test of where they stand in Six Nations championship terms will come against Scotland next month.
That match, at Murrayfield, is one Wales need to win to show this was not a one-off effort against the championship favourites and the world's No 1-ranked outfit.
England knew they had been in a tough match and coach Clive Woodward rightly gave the tenacious Welsh team the plaudits afterwards.
His casualty list told him how hard it had been with the star who makes them tick, Jonny Wilkinson, limping off, along with Neil Back, Jason Robinson and Dan Luger.
Wales team manager Alan Phillips knew his side wouldn't give an inch after seeing a training session explode with fury during the build-up into a set-to.
"The boys squared up," he revealed. "It was boots and saddles all right. How they got stuck into each other I thought we would only be able to field half a team against England."
Coach Steve Hansen had said Wales wanted to "cleanse them-selves" of the demons that haunted them in Rome and saw their assault on the Six Nations kick off in the worst possible fashion with a 30-22 defeat.
Redemption started with that confrontation in practice and continued on the pitch.
The home support got right behind Wales to make the most noise at a rugby international at the Cardiff citadel in years.
Heads were on the black after the failure of the Italian job with Hansen having made eight changes, one positional, for the clash with hated enemy England. Those who had survived the cull knew they had to perform.
Experienced lock forward Steve Williams spoke of the hurt that followed the "no-show" in Rome. "You are the only person who can put yourself right," he said.
"Everyone had to spend some time alone and go through the pain. It took some time to pick ourselves up because we were still pretty down at the start of the week.
"I don't have to prove anything to anybody but myself. Attitude has got to come from within - that's the key to any successful team."
The 32-year-old Northampton player revealed the Welsh dressing room was disappointed because players felt they should have scored at least a couple of tries.
It was impossible to disagree with that assessment. Centre Mark Taylor bashed marker Charlie Hodgson aside in the 38th minute but failed to draw Jason Robinson and put left wing Rhys Williams over.
Taylor's angle of running allowed Robinson to marshall Taylor, Williams and Kevin Morgan and gave sweeper Ben Cohen the chance to get over and make a crucial tackle. A try was still on, but full-back Morgan failed to hold onto the ball after Taylor popped it up.
You have got to take your chances at this level because they can be rare. Brian O'Driscoll showed how to do it during Ireland's win over Italy when he straightened and fixed three defenders to create the space for a team-mate to canter to the try-line.
For all of Wales's endeavour, England were the better side, especially when they managed to recycle possession. Steve Williams admitted as much, saying, "There is a gulf between the two teams - there's no point denying that, but we should have pushed them a bit harder."
Wales had one other real chance when Ceri Sweeney's pin-point cross-field kick for the outstanding Gareth Thomas spelt grave danger for England. But he was bundled over as he went for the ball, Phil Christophers being sin-binned less that two minutes after replacing Robinson.
Pontypridd youngster Sweeney had a satisfactory first outing at No 10. He was composed and comfortable on the biggest stage of them all and, as he predicted beforehand, played his natural game.
But he was disappointed Wales came second - a sure sign of his competitive streak. "There was a feeling up to the end we could have won it," said the 23-year-old.
"We did not feel over-awed by them and felt we were right in the game. Although we are not happy at losing, we proved we are not that far away from beating teams like England."
Legendary Wales king-pin Phil Bennett had sent Sweeney a good-luck letter urging him to enjoy the occasion. And England coach Clive Woodward heaped praise on Wales's new No 10.
He said, "There was a lot of pressure on the young guy playing outside-half, but he was outstanding in a vital position. The Welsh team should be applauded."
Wales's line-out was far more satisfactory with lock Robert Sidoli back to his autumn form in that facet and the loose, while it was a mistake by Hansen to leave Dafydd Jones out of the team for the Italian job.
The flanker is not only ultra-committed but has the skills, passion, power and vision to thrive in the international arena. Proud as they come, he is potentially an outstanding ambassador for his country.
Twenty three year old Jones, who was making only his fifth start, is sure to be in the starting line-up against Scotland, an encounter Wales will target.
"We have got to build on this performance in Scotland. Having people like Clive Woodward and Martin Johnson come into our dressing room after the match and praise us was good for the kids in our team," said Phillips.
Wales had conceded a total of 140 points - 50, 44 and 46 - in their last three international clashes with England and supporters had feared the worst following the ruins of Rome.
But they got stuck into and rattled the English machine. It became a match without much structure. Whenever there was some, England looked dangerous. But Wales held out, except for two occasions.
They only trailed by three points, 9-6 at the interval after Sweeney slotted over two penalties to Wilkinson's one and two dropped goals.
If Taylor's break had resulted in a try or Thomas scored from the cross-field kick it might have been different.
But England had a bit too much when they changed up a gear.
Their first try came from Wales missing touch. The ball was ran back with Wilkinson making a telling contribution. Patience was the order as they recycled and recycled and edged closer to the Welsh try-line.
Centre Will Greenwood, who has a habit of touching down against Wales, made a speculative probe and beat off Gavin Thomas's tackle and a minor assist from Steve Williams to score.
It was harsh on Thomas because he had made three tackles during the build-up.
He was also clinging on to Joe Worsley's legs when the substitute scored with his first touch of the ball, and was blameless.
However, he should not figure at No 8 again after looking ill at ease in what was an alien role.
Greenwood scored, despite England being a man short because of the sin-binning of Christophers, and Worsley got their second when Williams was in the cooler for a professional foul.
Wilkinson converted both tries and added a second-half penalty to take his international points tally to 620 from 40 appearances.
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Sut y gallwn hawlio yn ol ein gem genedlaethol? Oes angen newid y strwythur? How can we reclaim our national game? Is there a need for a restructure?