Wales boss Warren Gatland hailed players who “will run through a brick wall for you” after they demolished Ireland 25-7 to be crowned Six Nations Grand Slam champions.
Wales made it 14 games unbeaten and gave head coach Gatland a record third clean sweep in his final Six Nations game at the helm.
An outstanding Gareth Anscombe kicked 20 points – six penalties and the conversion of centre Hadleigh Parkes’ second-minute try – to sink Ireland in swirling rain under leaden skies on an afternoon when the visitors insisted the Principality Stadium roof remained open.
Wales climbed above Ireland to hold second spot in rugby’s official world rankings, and they will head to the World Cup in Japan later this year – Gatland’s swansong – as major title contenders.
“This group of players will run through a brick wall for you,” Gatland said.
“I am excited for the World Cup because you get two or three months together and you can prepare like a club side.
“You can go into a lot of skill development and really fine-tune your game. From that point of view, we will be in great shape.
“In our previous two World Cups (Gatland was in charge of), we were one of the fittest teams in the World Cup.
“We will be in good shape for this one as well.”
Gatland predicted that Wales would win the Grand Slam if they beat France in their opening match, and they fought back from 16 points adrift to win that game.
Six weeks later, they led 16-0 at half time and dominated Ireland in a way rarely seen against Joe Schmidt’s team during recent seasons.
Gatland added: “It’s nice when predictions come true, isn’t it?
“I’ve got to have that belief and self-confidence in us, and if I can portray that on to the players in some small way then hopefully they can believe it as well.
“It was a great performance today. The boys thoroughly deserve it. Creating history and winning Grand Slams are things nobody can ever take away from you.
“I thought they were exceptional in the way they managed the game. Our physicality nullified what have been Ireland’s strengths in scrum, lineout and runners off nine.
“Our turnover rate, compared to them, gave us that dominance, particularly in that first half.
“Emotion plays a huge part in big games like that. For our group of players, they knew they were playing for first or third place.
“The Irish players probably didn’t expect England to lose to Scotland, so in their heads they were playing for second or third. That has a significant impact in those small percentages.
“You are at home, there is a tidal wave of support behind you, and it built.
“I will miss the atmosphere of a full house, coming in on the bus, the fans and the celebrations afterwards.
“I think I will enjoy that (winning three Grand Slams) afterwards, but the game is always about the players, and we stress that.”
Ireland were washed away as Wales completed a first Six Nations clean sweep for seven years – a tournament record fourth Grand Slam – and landed their first Six Nations title since 2013.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “We are managing games better and working on these things. Belief is something you have to earn, and we are doing that.
“We have put a big target on our back for a lot of other teams, and you have to be comfortable with the pressure that comes with that.”
England collapsed in spectacular fashion but Scotland were still unable to register their first victory at Twickenham since 1983 as the Six Nations climaxed in a remarkable 38-38 draw.
It took a try by George Ford in the final play of the game to rescue England as the injury-ravaged Scots stood on the brink of completing the greatest comeback in tournament history.
Avenging last year’s bitter defeat at Murrayfield was now England’s aim and as they ran in four tries to build a 31-0 lead inside half an hour, they were on track to mark their last competitive match before the World Cup with an ominous statement.
But it was the prelude to a stunning riposte from Scotland, who ran in the next five tries, two of them finished by jet-heeled wing Darcy Graham, as the overwhelming favourites fell to pieces.
Tied at 31-31, the final game of the 2019 Six Nations was to be decided by a thrilling final quarter as delirious Scottish fans rubbed their eyes in disbelief at the drama unfolding before them.
England were rattled and replacement scrum-half Greig Laidlaw fell short with a long-range penalty attempt in swirling conditions that if successful would have seen them creep ahead for the first time.
But that moment duly arrived with four minutes remaining and once again it was the home midfield that waved Scotland through, but the try still took some scoring from centre Sam Johnson, who broke three despairing tackles to touch down.
Exhausted and bewildered, England summoned the strength for one last assault that saw Ford sprint over to level the final score, although as holders the Scots retained the Calcutta Cup.
There appeared to be only one outcome as England crossed with just 66 seconds on the clock.
Elliot Daly sprinted through a non-existent midfield and fed Henry Slade, whose own run ended when Jack Nowell picked a sharp line that swept him over.
Ben Moon limped off after tacking a big tackle on his ribs but the setback failed to dent momentum as Tom Curry was on the end of a short-range line-out drive.
Sinckler barrelled into Sean Maitland and the ball was worked right where Joe Launchbury dummied his way over.
Slade had sight of the line as he galloped down the left touchline and at the perfect moment he slipped a sublime pass to Jonny May, who cut inside to touch down.
The one-way traffic was halted when Stuart McInally charged down an Owen Farrell kick, grabbed the ball and won the race to the line, shrugging off a tackle by May in the process.
And it was slick passing and clever lines that opened England up in the 48th minute, the backs interchanging wonderfully until Graham jinked his way over in the left corner.
The Scottish resurgence continued when Ali Price kicked and collected to give number eight Magnus Bradbury the chance to show his pace as the home defence was beaten too easily once more.
It was now England who were falling apart and it was the midfield where the visitors were running amok as incisive play gave Graham his second try that was finished when the wing switched on the afterburners.
And the comeback was complete when Farrell’s sluggish pass in a sluggish move was picked off by Finn Russell, who ran half the pitch to drive over.
With the score level, a grandstand finish awaited and it was one England were lucky to play with 15 men after Farrell escaped punishment for a shoulder-led tackle on Graham.
Laidlaw’s penalty lacked the legs and Farrell was replaced by George Ford as the tension ramped up, before Johnson and Ford exchanged tries in a heart-stopping finish.
Wales clinched the Six Nations with a 25-7 victory over Ireland on Saturday to win the title for the first time since 2013.
The home side got off to a flying start as centre Hadleigh Parkes scored after two minutes at the Principality Stadium.
Gareth Anscombe converted the try before adding six penalty goals to secure coach Warren Gatland a third Grand Slam clean sweep of his 12-year tenure.
Substitute Jordan Larmour dotted down for an Irish consolation try.
Here’s our report card from a one-sided contest.
Wales class: Superior in every facet of the game. They were that half a second quicker to everything, right from George North’s first tackle on Jacob Stockdale to Parkes early try after two minutes. They were accurate in their execution, more clinical with possession, played the referee really well and made less mistakes than Ireland. They drove through contact, worked incessantly at the breakdown and showed a general hunger to the contest that the Men in Green couldn’t match. They nullified Ireland’s key strengths from speed of ruck and attack from maul – areas where they have generally gained a foothold in the contest. If they can continue to play with this discipline and commitment, then they will be hard stopped in Japan later this year.
Warren Gatland: The Wales coach has now overseen three Grand Slams and three Six Nations titles as well as leading the Dragons to the World Cup semi-final in 2011. That’s not to forget the success he has enjoyed as Lions coach in 2013 and 2017. But, still the 55-year-old doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He seems to know how to get it done when it comes down to these big Test matches, producing a tactical masterclass to disrupt Ireland at maul and line-out time. His side were dominant, clinical and accurate throughout the championship, and although their football wasn’t champagne-like for three out of the five games, they are still well-deserved champions.
Ireland struggle: The Men in Green looked slow and sluggish from the start, beating themselves with their incessant penalty count. Joe Schmidt’s side pride themselves on their discipline, but the concession of eight penalties in the first half alone highlighted the pressure they were under. In total, they gave away 11 penalties and looked on the backfoot for the entire game. The back-row were non-existent, the line-out faltered and they couldn’t get into the game cause of their poor discipline and huge Welsh pressure.
Murray/Sexton worryingly bad: Ireland’s most important pairing have yet to show the same class from 2018. A world-class duo, they have been well short of their potential and general influence this campaign. Against Wales, their distribution was slow and inaccurate, the kicks were mixed and their general influence on proceedings was weak. Sexton looked nothing close to Player of the Year standard, while Murray doesn’t look a patch on the same player from 12 months ago. A lot of Murray’s flaws can be down to reduced power in his right arm from the neck injury he sustained during the second half of 2018. But for Sexton, is it a case of second season syndrome after scaling the mega heights of 2018?
2 mins: Jones wins the line-out and Wales shift the ball infield. A number of phases later, Anscombe cuts a well-measured kick from the outside of the boot in behind the Ireland defence. Parkes gathers and touches down. Anscombe converts (7-0).
18 mins: Anscombe knocks over a penalty (10-0).
35 mins: The 27-year-old slots a penalty after Tadhg Furlong was whistled for off-side (13-0).
40 mins: Anscombe tucks away a penalty from 33 metres (16-0).
48 mins: Anscombe steps up to put the ball between the posts (19-0).
54 mins: The Cardiff Blues man knocks over his sixth kick (22-0).
69 mins: Anscombe posts another penalty to make it 25-0.
80 mins: Larmour collects possession and races over the line to score a consolation try for Ireland. Jack Carthy converts (25-7).
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
Wales controlled territory, possession and the breakdown in a manner that forced Ireland to make mistakes. They were smarter than Ireland, more streetwise and looked a more organised unit, even from Parkes early try. Trailing 16-0 at the break, Ireland never recovered and continued to make errors, given they were put under an immense amount of pressure from Wales. They couldn’t get into their flow and that was down to the tenacity of the Wales defence and how difficult they made it for Ireland at the breakdown. From this, Anscombe kept pushing Wales further and further ahead on the scoreline. A well-deserved Grand Slam and one hell of a performance to produce on the final day.
Wales – A+: Not many faults in this famous display. It wasn’t a classic by any means, but Gatland’s side dominated every facet of the game. Just like they did all tournament. Wyn Jones and Anscombe were magic.
Ireland – D: Perhaps one of the worst performances in the Joe Schmidt era. It was disappointing to see their high penalty count, lack of fight and not even a point on the board over the course of the 80 mins.