Cliff Morgan: Wales’ glory

Sound the trumpets, bang the cymbals and make a joyful noise - Wales have won the Triple Crown, the Six Nations Championship and the Grand Slam with great style and discipline.

This has prompted a wonderfully liberating feeling around Wales for the Principality is engrossed in a rugby revival that is as inspiring and infectious as any of the famous religious revivals down the ages.

In a nation firmly aware of itself and its history the atmosphere is electric. In fact an old friend of mine, a passionate Welshman, has compared the Welsh captain, Ryan Jones, with Owain Glendower, the historic liberator who over 600 years ago was virtually the ruler of all Wales.

Jones and his team are being idolised by Welshmen everywhere for they have shown a wealth of rugby skills on the field and brought a sense of pride to a nation that cherishes its rugby traditions.

We have to ask the question why a team that consists mostly of the same squad of players for the past couple of years and disappointed in the World Cup last autumn, has suddenly produced such effective, stylish and winning rugby?

It is generally agreed that the straight forward and honest leadership of the new coach, Warren Gatland, has given the players what was needed. The tough and tactically aware New Zealander has introduced a strict sense of discipline and for the first time for years everyone knows who the boss is.

Players ignore him at their peril. No player is certain of his place in the team and consequently every squad member is on their toes. Every training session is intense and inspirational and everyone is happy to have been introduced to a fresh vision that has steered individuals into a team and an enthusiasm for winning with style.

Gatland expects every player to do their homework on the opposition if they are to be successful and he believes the team have mastered this. As a coach, Garland has an impressive record in this part of the world. Coach of Connacht, of Ireland and Director of Rugby for the London Wasps when they won five major trophies. He demanded, from his coaching staff to the players on the field, a philosophy of never accepting defeat.

I have, for many years, been a fan of the new Welsh Defence Coach, Shaun Edwards. Having seen him play with such style and guts so many times in Rugby League Cup Finals at Wembley and in test matches for Great Britain, I rate him alongside Gareth Edwards, as a true world class rugby man. As a coach, at London Wasps, alongside Warren Gatland, he proved his worth because of the extraordinary depth of his talent.

My grandson, Jack, reminiscing with me after the Triple Crown match in Dublin, said: “After Wales got knocked out of the World Cup people thought that Welsh rugby was in the doldrums and a dramatic overhaul was needed. People seemed to forget that this is the team that won the Grand Slam in 2005 playing some great rugby along the way and many of those same players are still in the Welsh squad. All that was needed was a bit of tweaking, some self belief and a stronger defence. This season Wales have only conceded two tries so Shaun Edwards has done the trick! The attack has always been good and is going to get better and better - with a slight improvement in execution it will really start to fizz.”

Warren Gatland also appointed the Welsh scrum-half, with 59 caps, Rob Howley, as the backs coach of whom he said “He’s a man of great talent and a fantastic work ethic. One of the best players I have ever coached.” Gatland’s coaching team is also strengthened by Neil Jenkins, the kicking coach and Robin McBryde, the forwards coach and it looks to be a happy and victorious consortium.

However, as we all well know, it is the players on the field who have to perform and it is thanks to the forwards that the Welsh backs were given the necessary possession to win and it is h thanks to the backs for their unbelievable defensive strategy that has made this Welsh team the most difficult to beat and the most exciting to watch in the northern hemisphere.

The next challenge is a summer tour to South Africa - home of the World Champions. This is a mighty challenge for Ryan Jones and his team but I have seen, during the past season, sound evidence that this team has real talent and with the tight and talented coaching set-up the future looks bright.

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