Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Summon Spirit of 2013 and Refuse To Be Denied

Wales’ demolition of England in 2013 will forever be etched into the minds of most Welsh fans and plenty of English too. However, the biggest game of the tournament for Wales wasn't in Cardiff, it was five weeks earlier in Paris.

In the first week of the Six Nations Wales succumbed to Ireland. The Irish pack bossed the breakdown, whilst the likes of Simon Zebo and Brian O’Driscoll strutted through the Welsh defence. The second half had barely started when the game was all bar ended for Wales. A fight back came, but they ultimately ran out of time.

It was a familiar tale in twelve months of Welsh rugby. With Rob Howley temporarily in charge, four autumn defeats - including Samoa and Argentina - had followed an Aussie whitewash in a three test series. Wales had recorded no victories against a rugby nation since their Grand Slam in 2012; their only victories between tournaments coming against the Barbarians and Super Rugby’s ACT Brumbies.

Things were looking bleak with a daunting trip to Paris up next. Anything less then victory would have left Wales’ Six Nations in tatters, Howley’s position untenable and the Welsh players’ Lion prospects ruined. In France it all changed.

The parallels to this year’s victory are easy to spot. Question marks hung over the Welsh players like a grey cloud; there was no eight game losing streak this time around, but the first two games of the championship were poor to say the least. Again the win was not sensational. On both occasions flamboyance and flair were suppressed by passion and perseverance; a passion released with incredible displays of emotion. At the full time whistle Leigh Halfpenny's emotions poured out in the arms of girlfriend Jess, overcome with the occasion.

Two years ago it was Dave North - father of George - who allowed the occasion to get the better of him, entering the fraying in a show of support for his under fire son. That day North Jr answered his critics by applying a superb finish to Dan Biggar's inch perfect chip, but the giant winger still attracts his detractors.

For an S4C advert, George North ran through a forest carrying a tree, now he carries and whole nation on his shoulders in every game. George has been so impressive during his first 50 caps that fans expect every game to be a finger pointing, Folau carrying, French fullback flattening highlight reel.

Many will continue to make the obvious comparison to the All Blacks' Julian Savea, but North is just 22. Savea was only a month away from his 22nd birthday when he made his test debut against Ireland in 2012.

There was to be no try scoring heroics this time around, but North's labour is easy to see with the 79 metres he carried the ball for. That's more than any other player in the Stade de France.

The match winning try came from Dan Biggar, the provider turned finisher to help seal two victories some two years apart. The outside half capped a cunning Rhys Webb manoeuvre after outstanding linking from Dan Lydiate; an Ospreys trio combining in the red of Wales.

Outside Biggar, Jamie Roberts was simply fantastic. Given ball, there are few strike runners more effective than the Racing Metro centre. In the pack Alun Wyn Jones and Gethin Jenkins put in a double shift worthy of any international team. Jones left his mark on just about every facet of play, French play and blade of grass. Meanwhile Luke Charteris helped shore up an ailing Welsh line out and swam through French mauls like Michael Phelps chasing gold.

After beating France, ex-England centre Jerry Guscott said Wales should be favourites due to having "big-match, big-name players fit and home advantage." It will take some performance on Saturday to beat Ireland and everything suggests the men in green are correctly favourites, despite Guscott's views. However, they say hope is the last thing to die and every fan in Wales will be hoping they can spring a surprise on Saturday. 

The players themselves must do more than hope. They must believe. Just like two years ago, they must use the dogged victory in Paris as their galvaniser. They must scrap for every inch of ground. Just like 2013 they must refuse to be denied.

Anthrax - Refuse to Be Denied

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