State of the Nation: Wales

Date published: March 21 2013

As we do after a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, we study champions Wales.

As we do after every major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, we study champions Wales.

Wales have sealed three previous championships in the Six Nations, but none in the manner of Saturday's demolition of England.

It's hard to believe that a few weeks earlier the Welsh public were baying for Rob Howley's blood, on the back end of an eight-game losing streak and that had crushed all confidence. Instead against England, confidence was coursing through their veins.

The turnaround however started much earlier. Defeating France in Paris produced the necessary force to flick the switch on Welsh fortunes – with the brightest of finishes in George North's try closing out an ugly, brutal game. The elation of North's father running onto the pitch to join the celebrations represented the relief of a nation.

Funny thing, momentum. Road wins followed against Italy and Scotland, and gritty ones at that, meaning that by the time Wales rode back into Cardiff with the Six Nations title looked upon as a 'mathematical possibility', hopes were measured if not quietly optimistic.

The rest is history.

Wales as a collective were brilliant against England, but in the previous matches a series of exceptional performances deserved recognition.

Andrew Coombs was an unknown coming into the Six Nations, yet amidst an injury crisis at lock proved to be a physical beast on both sides of the ball.

Ryan Jones proved once more that he can excel at Test level, the inspiration in Paris and Rome when Wales needed a leader. It was only right that he lifted the trophy with Gethin Jenkins.

Dan Biggar silenced his critics once and for all in guiding the Wales to a Six Nations title. Still only 23, his Test career is only just beginning.

Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric have been heralded for their double-barrelled attack on the breakdown and rightly so, but Toby Faletau went quietly about his business throughout the championship, topping the stat charts.

The fact that George North and Alex Cuthbert are now the frontrunners to start for the Lions tells you everything about their talent, whilst Leigh Halfpenny was probably issued his plane ticket back in November. It is a side seeping with talent.

Hammering England therefore is not enough. Last year following the Grand Slam, expectations of what Wales could do on tour in Australia and at home in November were at boiling point. They lost every single remaining match that year.

Much like England following their victory over the All Blacks, success means little if it does not become the foundation for bigger and better things.

No nation will be better represented on the Lions tour than Wales and rightly so, but a repeat of last year's struggles in the November Internationals again in 2013 will be unacceptable.

Wales will enjoy the moment as they rightly should, but ambition to build on their turnaround and then the execution of that must happen, not to mention addressing the continuing financial struggles of the regions. Savour the success, but come back wanting more.

by Ben Coles