WE tend to work in extremes in this country.
Two weeks ago, following an abject defeat in Scotland, Wales and head coach Rob Howley were pummelled with many suggesting the players needn’t bother make any plans to tour New Zealand in the summer.
This week, it’s a different story with the nation rejoicing at Friday’s epic 22-9 win over Ireland, and suddenly tipping anyone and anything in a Welsh shirt to wear the Lions jersey against The All Blacks.
It’s a development not lost on Shane Williams, who as part of his ongoing RBS 6 Nations analysis with Telegraph Sport, admitted Friday night was as frustrating as it was pleasing.
“The players stood up and did exactly what they needed to do,” he said.
“It was a complete contrast to what we did in the second half against Scotland and in a funny way it was frustrating, because a lot of us watching were left asking why it has taken so long?
“Unfortunately in terms of our Championship hopes it’s too late.”
But Williams said it was pleasing that the side appeared to have learnt from the lessons of the narrow home defeat to England earlier in the 6 Nations – and said after recent criticism, Howley and his players deserve great credit.
“We put Ireland under a lot of pressure and did what we had to do late on.
“You have to credit to the whole side. George North was under pressure but you could see within five minutes that he meant business – he was involved early on and getting his hands on the ball, and he looked back to his best.
“Rhys Webb was fantastic again and he was under pressure, because all the talk was about the Murray/Sexton partnership.
“But now Rhys has really put his name on the board for Lions selection, while Sam Warburton had his best game for two years in a Wales shirt.
“Ken Owens is another one who is now a real contender for the tour. He was outstanding Friday and has probably been the most consistent hooker in the Championship.”
And the irony of the current public perception wasn’t lost on Wales’ record try scorer, himself a Lion on the 2005, 2009, and 2013 tours.
“Last week people were asking if any Wales players would be on the plane. Suddenly, a number of them are really in the picture, and Warren Gatland would have been pleased with what he saw on Friday.”
But before that, there is the small matter of Wales’ final game of the Championship this Saturday in Paris, a clash that could see Howley’s side finish second should they manage a sixth consecutive win over the French.
And it’s a game Williams, who was in Rome on Saturday to see France beat Italy 40-18, is backing Wales to win, but not without warning.
“We will go to Paris with momentum now and confidence in selection and if we play like we did Friday I have no doubt we’ll win there,” he said.
“Again on Saturday, France drifted in and out of the game.
“At times they can be sublime and score from anywhere, next thing you know they are throwing passes to the ground and dropping balls. I’ll back Wales but we have to prove we can progress now from Friday’s performance and show consistency.”
And Williams, who was commentating in Italy for ITV, was also scathing in his assessment of the home side’s second half display as the French cut loose.
“It was same old same old from Italy. They were as good as France for 50 minutes but then visibly tired and missed over 50 tackles. That’s unheard of and isn’t good enough at under 9s level let alone international rugby.
“They play Scotland Saturday and the Scots should have way too much for them.”
Which brought us to the RBS 6 Nations finale this Saturday night, when Ireland host England in Dublin, with Eddie Jones’ side going for a second straight Grand Slam.
And few will bet against them doing it after a 61-21 Calcutta Cup win over Scotland at Twickenham at the weekend.
“They (England) were clinical and I was very impressed with their pace and tempo. Scotland didn’t get near them at the breakdown and were really on the ropes in the last 20 minutes.”
And with that in mind, two time Grand Slam winner Williams admitted he was changing his pre-tournament prediction that Joe Schmidt’s men would edge out on England with home advantage.
“My original hunch was Ireland, but having seen England come through that game against Wales where they had to work so hard, and then demolish Scotland, I’m changing that.
“Ireland will really have to improve from Friday night, but England are now a class act and you have to say a Grand Slam is on the cards.”
- On April 1, the inaugural Tour De Shane will take place in Pembrokeshire - a cycling event to raise funds for the The Velindre Cancer Centre. For more information on the event, or to enter either the 50 or 70 mile routes on offer, visit www.man-upuk.com/tour-de-shane.