London. Warren Gatland was left contemplating the prospect of another Grand Slam after seeing his Wales side edge England in a thrilling Six Nations Championship clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
Wales won 19-12 to complete the Triple Crown — when one of the four national teams of the British Isles beats all the others in a single Championship season — and that left the squad looking forward to rounding off the tournament at home against Italy and France.
Ireland kept its faint title hopes alive with a comprehensive 42-10 win over Italy.
This was just Wales’s second win at Twickenham since 1988. The other success came four years ago when, in Gatland’s first game in charge, Wales triumphed 26-19 to spark what turned out to be a Grand Slam season.
And with Italy struggling and Wales desperate to avenge its heartbreaking World Cup semifinal loss to France, Gatland said another clean sweep was on the horizon.
“This is a young group with a little bit of experience who potentially could be outstanding,” he said. “We have a bit of depth throughout the side and it is a team to get excited about.
“If we get a good win against Italy we can prepare with confidence for the game against France,” he added.
Saturday’s clash was the first time World Cup semifinalist Wales had secured a Triple Crown at the home of old rival England but the match of the tournament thus far was a desperately close affair.
Heading into the final 10 minutes, the teams were locked at 12-12 after four penalties apiece from England’s Owen Farrell and Wales’s Leigh Halfpenny.
But Wales, with five minutes left, scored the only try of the match when replacement back Scott Williams stripped the ball from substitute England lock Courtney Lawes and, from nearly halfway, kicked ahead before chasing down and regathering, with Halfpenny then adding a conversion.
There was enough time left for England to launch one last attack and, with the final play of the match, wing David Strettle went over the Welsh line under challenge from Halfpenny, George North and Jonathan Davies.
There then followed several tense minutes before video referee Iain Ramage of Scotland ruled “no try.”
Wales was 12-6 down at one point and early in the second half was reduced to 14 men when fly-half Rhys Priestland was sent to the penalty box.
But with skipper Sam Warburton outstanding on his return to the side, Wales rallied to claim a dramatic victory. “We played better with 14 men than 15,” Gatland said. “We were guilty of trying to move ball in first half without having earned that right.”
Far from being a hero, Scarlets center Williams might have been a “villain” when before his stunning score he squandered what seemed a certain try by ignoring a two-man overlap and then being turned in the tackle.
However, it was not long before Williams — who’d come on at halftime for Jamie Roberts following a knee injury to his fellow midfielder — was sealing his place in Welsh rugby history.
Ireland looked set for a difficult match but responded with the last move of the half, Tommy Bowe rounding off in the corner following a flowing move from Rob Kearney, Gordon D’Arcy and Stephen Ferris.
Sexton’s conversion made it 17-10 and Ireland pulled away in the second half, with Bowe, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble touching down.