So that’s it then… he said, coolly.

Wales have rightly claimed their Grand Slam. Good teams do stuff like that; express their superiority; by winning things. Following on from a World Cup where they were indisputably the darlings of the watching globe, it is surely particularly appropriate that we can actually treasure – all of us – a time when that most thrilling combination of liberated running and invincible belief have overcome more prosaic cultures. Because that’s what’s happened.

Wales have carried that flame for flair and expression thereof more convincingly and more closely to their hearts than anyone else. Because the essence of what they are doing is notably purer than all the remaining Six Nations sides. Because the Welsh nation wills it. Because the coaches – Gatland, Howley and Edwards – believe they have the personnel to make it work in a cynical age.

So what we get is a fascinating mixture of olde-worlde philosophical generosity (does that sound faintly laughable?) and modern drive. Gatland is clearly a gritty but inspiring sort; Howley a past master of many of the graces perpetrated by ‘girls’ and Edwards a challenger, an enforcer, a furious, steely bundle of aggressive stepforwardnowism. What is Cardiff Central here is the ability to engender real trust and belief. Not the flip-chart version; the mild-mannered or over-coiffured version. The real deal. This the Welsh leadership have managed – along with virtually everything else – modestly, with supreme confidence and not a little style.

The combination – that word again – of contrasting personalities all apparently gathering, picking and going in the same direction is one of the more discussed and imagined notions in successful team sport; it is however, rarely observed in the flesh. It’s here in Wales. In a land uniquely (probably) close to and well informed upon its national sport, people proudly identify with Warburton’s previously described Brotherhood of Redness. They might do that as a matter of course. But things take flight, passions and glorious expectations rise when there is an understanding of some value-adding extra dimension in play. It’s here in Wales. This icing-on-the-cake goodness thing. What’s not to love about your own team being both mighty successful and magnificently entertaining?

This, of course, is mere context. Welsh Windbaggery. And what pleasure it gives me to wave this flag for sporting poetry and – yes maybe – pomp, pretty secure in the knowledge that the Six Nations Table concurs with my view of this emblematically Welsh triumph; goals (or equivalents) paying that rent. Lest this ode deteriorate further into hagiography however, I would like to say a few things about what these victories were grounded upon; actually.

Start at the front. There has been an argument that Wales were in some sense not big or brutal enough to compete at the Very Top Level Up Front for some years. This argument may have had some merit to it in days when there was evidentially a shortage of cover for Adam Jones or Gethin Jenkins (say.) (This could and was also said about the second row, mind you.) In other words there was an informed view that Wales did not have a sufficiently strong or deep pool of front five assets. Fair cop. It may even be an issue now against the Tri-Nations heavies -possibly. But Wales front three against France today contained at least 2 world class performers for me – and the third, Matthew Rees – is no mug.

The second row has likewise more than held its own in this tournament but Alun Wynne Jones and Ian Evans lack the obvious class of the fellows immediately to (and up and against) their rear(s.) This hardly makes them weak links, mind. They are merely decent internationals – Wynne Jones being almost worth his place for the brio with which he sings “Mae hen wlad “etc etc.

That back row for Wales is, in the current jargon, immense. The full complement of Lydiate/Warburton/Faletau at 6/7/8 compares favourably with anything anywhere on current form. Lydiate was justifiably Man-of-the-Match today for his fierce commitment and industry, his ability to deny the opposition. Warburton is rightly already famed for his sensational athleticism and power and Faletau has the uncoachable knack of always and often crucially beating that first tackle. They have, as a unit, taken up the challenge and indeed the mantle of whirlwind All Black back rowers who have achieved almost unplayable heights in terms of their dynamism and ability to unzip the breakdown. The opposition now fears an open game against Wales for many reasons – one of them being the dangers posed when the likes of Faletau and Warburton flash from phase to phase.

But let’s face it, the fabulous truth is things get exciting when the ball goes wide. Jonathon Davies has had a superb Six Nations; Jamie Roberts a good one. But the new beasts, the cherubic outhouses on either flank have probably garnered most coverage, most glory and most points. (Haven’t checked – but you know what I mean.) George North has arrived, often with a mass of Englishmen/Italians etc attached or being swatted contemptuously aside – that’s if they had the fortune (good or otherwise) to actually lay fingers upon him. He looked like some choirboy-alien in red; some babe born immediately before the match, at 19 stones, then hurriedly unbuilt or transported to nothingness for the following week. So that the fluently superlative but somehow other-wordly charging through normally – hah! – proportioned defences could begin again. He’s er… beyond stardom already.

And then this bloke called Cuthbert turns up. Weighing in at a similarly absurd tonnage, with similar gifts for elephant-trampling or – apparently – tap dancing. Massive.

Again let me dig out one of my pseudo-anecdotal wotnots here; about this linkage between Welsh back play and culture. The fans, the people of Wales really know they have something extraordinary going for them. They know this both intuitively – in their Red Souls – and in the detail. A young woman (Sales Rep, as it ‘appens) waxed authoritatively to me recently about the weight and power advantage Wales had in the backs for their trip to Twickenham. (Meaning obviously the likes of North against say Strettle). I was fascinated by her appreciation and her relish for this new turbo-injected Dragonstuff. Glee was certainly present at the gateway to this new, physically enhanced dominion. But the nature of our conversation remained almost spiritual; does that sound laughable?

She understood, she knew, it was implicit in what she said that the game in Wales has not departed from its upliftingly sunlit dingle. Moved on, yes, but not departed. Gatland has led a revolution for mad, old, daft ideas. Both icily as well fervently – he has chafed as well as smiled no doubt. He has prepared his Brotherhood quite possibly better than any rugby team ever before. They have a remarkable team ethic because they believe in him, in something. And as that something is clearly and obviously to do with the expression of gifts as well as the exercise of power and planning, I am unable to refrain again from using this word poetry. Meaning a kind of inherently beautiful expression. In this case, on a pitch.

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The difference

The mood in Wales is different this time. There is a quieter surety about the thing. People – and in Wales this means nearly all the people – are bustling along with purpose, reflecting the emergence of a different language of being. Rather than being predicated upon that naturally occurring defiance – that celtic fire – this all-new, cooler mothertongue is born of some elite cryo-therapeutic confidence, it seems. As though the whole nation has been queueing up to march into those portable cubicles now favoured by the Brotherhood of Redness itself – the national rugby side.

Can it really be the case that in car parks from Haverfordwest to Harlech, butchers and bakers and candlestick- makers have been topping up their god-given verve by chilling to the Amazonian Max? Is Dai the Taps really freshly emerged from a minus 120 hit of re-energising bliss? Can he really stow away those spanners and tighten up with miraculous finger-power alone? And is Dafydd the Doors really shaving them down with his daily-renewable but diamond-edged bristles? Too right. For this is the era of the supermen.

Wales knows rugby and it knows something has changed. They have gone from being merely the best Northern Hemisphere side to watch into being the real powerhouses of European rugby. They have enormous talent and enormous backs. They look unstoppable. Right now, as Merv the mighty Swerve is rightly remembered, a new breed of animal is snorting in the background, ready – unbelievably ready – to step out and make their own statement. These fellahs are equally as proud and passionate as the former number 8 was. But they are utterly different in terms of their levels of conditioning – one reason amongst many that Warburton’s team will surely roll through any legitimate nerves to extinguish French hopes of spoiling the national party.

And yes, there will be a party.

Look away now.

Dowson family… look away now.

Not only is your magnificent specimen of a boy about to be laid very low by his own hugely brave but slightly bambi-esque attempt at last-ditch defending but he is about to get a face-full of studs from a no doubt grateful but in this moment elsewhere-fixated colleague. A bloke called Croft, who has earlier almost single-handedly doused French fires before accidentally and unfortunately crowning your son’s nozzer.

This can happen; to anyone. Anyone who is laying their body on the line – that particularly significant lime-washed line – in the dying moments of an Anglo-French rendez-vous characteristically loaded with thuddingly adversarial ros-bif. Also, in this climactic period, (some of) the family Farrell wince as the relatively diminutive Owen of their nobly tuned-in clan trammels up some oncoming euro-bison as he pounds into the 22. It’s a juddering impact shared by those in white – fist-clenchingly triumphant – and the bleu contingent, who might only acknowledge the English pivot’s ‘ballons’ in some cafe-bar, later, with a now depressingly articulated gallic shrug.

Emotions arising. From an exhausting encounter, won by the English, who scored tries – who were surely the better side? Away; in France; that place suspected by lilywhites at large of producing dangerously cynical and belligerent forwards and twinkling but unsteady backs. But hadn’t that former twinkler turned prosaic boss Saint-Andre bolstered the French weakness for girly expressivity through wholesale changes at half-back? In doing so surely delivering a hoof-enhanced robustness to his side? Indeed he had. It just didn’t work, entirely.

It didn’t work because Beauxis and Dupuy kicked poorly and because what we should surely now be calling Stuart Lancaster’s England flashed and stormed before them, being both flickeringly, individually inventive and collectively hearty. There was a welcome confidence and edge about England going forward and something close to invincible defiance, yard by yard, in retreat. Late in the game, when the home side finally shook that dark mane free, having lifted its head from some icy barrel, this thing became a Proper Test. A home crowd roaring, a home pack suddenly surging beyond its capacities with a momentum that churned the stomachs of the watching English. But not, apparently, their players.

Every tackle in that relative Parisian crisis bred an eager and an instinctive but heads-up realignment. On 78 minutes Farrell – remarkably – heaves Harinordoquy to a standstill. On 80 plus he hammers the ball jubilantly, in pain, sideways into the crowd before crumpling at the moment of celebration, his ribcage and shoulder area a bruised concertina. The last eight minutes or so had been a huge and increasingly physical challenge for Lancaster’s posse; it was one that almost to a man they accepted and rebuffed with equal and united purpose. These minutes alone may have seen off the challenge of Nick Mallett as well as the challenge of this ultimately ordinary French side. Perhaps.

The subject of Lancaster’s seamless promotion has already occupied most of the post-match coverage. Rightly, Sir Stuart-in-Waiting has eloquently side-stepped the issue – in much the same way that the strikingly rejuvenated Croft eased by a bewildered Rougerie for his stunning try. Lancaster – sometimes to my frustration, I admit – has talked a good game, an even-tempered game, in a way that makes some of us want to throw soft toys at the telly. He is so deep into the culture of Coaching Responsibility and Calm that he appears on time to have sacrificed any real personality he may have for some imagined cleaner, higher purpose. (Either that or he is one terrifying boring bastard.) However, even cynics(?) or optimists(?) like me who crave for the ungroomed or the truly original must surely concede the man has done a blinding job.

England have had players for some years. Now they have a unit which has a powerful understanding of fair expectation; to commit bravely and fully and generously to the wonderful and silly notion that mates and fans alike must be carried, connected, on that national badge, through that roll of emotion and pride and volcanic charge to some fulfilling, unknowable end. A place where your best is good enough, provided it is a wholehearted best; a best expressive of actually rather profound, communal aspirations. Lancaster’s lot really do appear to have re-connected to this… for want of a better phrase… love of the game. And – not insignificantly – they have won three times now away from home.

But look; let’s get realer. This stuff may not move those who will choose the next England coach. They will quite rightly take a dispassionate view; one fostered by continual exposure to rule by committee. They will examine the credentials of the small handful(?) of contenders and they will do it whilst twirling expensive pens in an airless room where even memories are nullified. The immediate renaissance of fleshy resistance from Robshaw and co may not register here. Hypothetical achievements under contrasting new leaders will be imagined… and the weightless protractedly weighed. And Lancaster – despite being in post and serenely so – may not get the nod. Because a) ‘things aren’t that simple’ and b) there simply is no justice.

So that ten minute period – that mauve patch? – in the first half at The Stade, when England destroyed the French with (amongst other things) a crushing tackle from the stropmeister Ashton, brilliantly exploited by Dickson’s quick hands and Tuilagi’s irresistible charge, may not be as seminally influential as it felt. The nature, the ludicrous majesty of Morgan’s bursts into rural France, followed by his exquisite offloading to support may not count for his gaffer. Even though we felt they were landmark statements of new-found belief; such things fade; such things fade.

In beating France, in finding something to believe in, the English have transformed both themselves and arguably this Six Nations tournament. They have genuinely become the second best team in Europe. They have begun to shake off their unholy and unworthy past. They have, in a really good way, made the choice for their next Head Coach a very, very big call.