Warren Gatland loves training camp. The Wales coach especially loves a good training camp.
After two weeks on the road — and two opening wins — Gatland was happy to be back at their Vale Resort base west of Cardiff to prepare for the Six Nations rugby showdown with England. To Gatland, the longer they're together, the better they are. Before the match on Saturday between the championship's only two unbeaten teams, Gatland said Wales prepared great and looked sharp.
"We went through some pain in terms of how hard we trained," he said. "I told the players there's no way anyone else is training as hard as us. It paid off."
In a big way.
Wales overcame England 21-13 in a dramatic last quarter to become the only unbeaten team halfway through the Six Nations.
As well, their first win over England in six years was their 12th straight overall, a new national record.
In a match high on tension but low on quality, Wales made all the running but was losing until its first try 12 minutes from the end by lock Cory Hill. Then Wales finally showed on the scoreboard how dominant they were by adding a second and final try to wing Josh Adams.
After an error-ridden first half by the Welsh, who kept letting England off the hook, they kept better control of the ball in the second and pounded the visitors into submission. It took more than an hour, but Eddie Jones' men finally broke.
"Not just from a physical point of view, from a mental point of view, too," Gatland said with pride.
The stunning victory put the Grand Slam in sight, with a visit to Scotland in two weeks, then back home for the last round against defending champion Ireland. That ought to be a crackling atmosphere to rival Saturday, when England came to Cardiff favoured and in dazzling form.
Gatland doubted England's ability to win the biggest games, having also ruined England's Grand Slam decider in 2013, and beaten the English in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
"When it's really mattered, I've questioned whether they can win these big games," he said. "We've had a record of being pretty good in them."
Even though Wales won its first two matches, it was flaky in both against France and Italy and continued in that vein through the first half against England despite its great preparation.
Lineout throw-ins were stolen, balls were knocked on, and kicks from hand were wasteful and too often, when men were lined up and England was on the back foot. It all conspired to give relief to England, which grabbed its first try-scoring chance, from a Welsh turnover.
Hooker Ken Owens had the ball swiped from his grip by Courtney Lawes, and in a flash England set up a ruck in the Wales 22, and flanker Tom Curry popped out and beat the sole defender to the try-line. The Welsh stood around wondering where the defence was.
The defence showed its true colours in an extended injury time when England threw an 11-man scrum at Wales, which just held out to trail 10-3.
Just as against France, overcome from 16-0 down at halftime, the Welsh clicked in the second half. Catches stuck, kicks were fewer but more effective, Wales played the phases with pick-and-goes, and sustained pressure was put on England, who coughed up penalties.
In quick time, England prop Kyle Sinckler was penalized for obstructing Wales flyhalf Gareth Anscombe, and choking Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones in a tackle. Anscombe kicked Wales to within a point, while Sinckler, whom Gatland called an "emotional timebomb" in the run-up for brain fades, was yanked off.
"The world hasn't ended," Eddie Jones said. "I guarantee you the world's still out there and we'll learn from this."
Without any ball, Owen Farrell wasn't having much influence but kicked a penalty to extend England's lead to 13-9.
Wales, with fresh props Nicky Smith and Dillon Lewis, charged into the visitors for 34 phases, and the home fans in the sold-out Principality Stadium were roused for the first time since the opening kickoff. George North took it to the right corner flag, then Dan Biggar, who had just replaced Anscombe, played scrumhalf for a charging Hill, who burrowed his 1.96-meter frame under two defenders to score and put Wales ahead for the first time.
Hill was picked to improve Wales' lineout, and he played himself into the ground. The try was his last act on the field.
With still more than 10 minutes to go, Wales began spearing through the flagging England defence.
Biggar, the British Lion saved by Gatland to finish off England, did just that with a crosskick that Adams rose above Elliot Daly to catch and score in the 78th minute.
Moments later, Wales was walking a lap of honour.