England centre Will Greenwood believes England’s 26-9 victory at the Millennium Stadium yesterday will be remembered as the vehicle on which Welsh rugby travelled back to a place of pride and passion.
“They came out and gave us a huge physical confrontation,” said Greenwood, who was as critical of England’s RBS 6 Nations triumph over France last weekend as most Welshmen were of their side’s embarrassing defeat by Italy.
“Around the breakdown of the balls they were ultra, ultra competitive. Their line-out functioned very well and their scrum was top drawer.
“They had 65,000 people screaming them on and they knew their backs were against the wall. They came out, stood up and were counted. We are delighted to come away with a win.
“We were up against it. They hassled, kicked the ball up in the air, smacked people, knocked us over and it required us to have cool heads.”
Quite a eulogy, but then wasn’t this the day when England were supposed to apply the final sword thrust to a rugby nation apparently in terminal decline?
Some said England would win by 60 points. The bookies had practically stopped taking bets.
All nonsense and insulting to a proud, if ailing, Wales who had made eight changes and turned again to 34-year-old captain Jonathan Humphreys after a three-year absence.
In the end England were happy to flee with their Grand Slam ambitions still intact, though their World Cup hopes look a good deal less realistic when viewed away from the comfort zone of Twickenham.
Indeed, such was the concern that the experienced triumvirate of Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back wandered around England’s changing room at half-time spreading the message: ‘Don’t panic.’
At that stage England were 9-6 up but down to 14 men after Phil Christophers, a replacement for the injured Jason Robinson, was sin-binned – and the Welsh were breathing the sort of fire which their supporters have not witnessed since the days of JPR Williams.
Indeed, if Mark Taylor had passed when a try appeared certain following his brilliant 50-metre surge then the Welsh might even have set a platform to complete mission impossible.
“If’s a small word but it can be huge in sport,” admitted Greenwood. “We weren’t quite firing and the home side we’re playing very well. That was a crucial moment but international rugby is all about taking your chances.
“A doubt might have crept in if they’d scored from that burst. They didn’t take their chance and then we took two quick tries when we down to 14 men. I’m not into ifs and coulds.
“We were very calm at half-time. One of Woody’s favourite phrases is ‘cool heads, think correctly under pressure’. That’s what we did.”
Perhaps, but it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t a performance to spark the slightest frisson of apprehension in the southern hemisphere.
The concern could be measured in Jonny Wilkinson’s desperation to turn pressure into points with two drop goals.
But then great sides invariably find a way to win when they are not playing well and injuries to Robinson, Richard Hill, Back and Wilkinson were clearly disruptive.
“On Martin Johnson’s gravestone it will say ‘smash it up, take it forward and look after it’,” said Greenwood. “That’s what he kept saying and as Jonno’s always telling us we’re not here to entertain, we’re here to win.
“I know the fans want us to win handsomely and score pretty tries but in the squad of 22 we just want a victory.”
That was something Greenwood deserved for another classy midfield performance which brought him his sixth try in clashes between England and Wales, taking him into the elite company of Rory Underwood and Gerald Davies.
“I’m very honoured and proud to be mentioned in the same sentence as those boys but I can only thank the forwards for a tremendous performance,” was Greenwood’s typically modest response.
And his verdict on England’s 6 Nations so far?
“Could do better probably would be the school report, but played two, won two. Let’s keep the momentum going.”
Wales, by contrast, have stopped the rot and won back the fans. Now they need to find a way to win a rugby match.