The Grand Slam may have eluded them but Wales did enough to become worthy Six Nations champions for the sixth time. Rugby World looks at how they achieved it
Wales win the 2021 Six Nations
Wales are the European champions. Wayne Pivac’s men won the 2021 Guinness Six Nations after France failed to achieve the sizeable victory required to snatch the title from Welsh hands. France lost 27-23 to Scotland tonight after a last-minute try by Duhan van der Merwe.
Related content: Scotland beat France in Paris for first time in 22 years
The Welsh success is arguably the most startling of the 22 editions of the championship since it became a six-team tournament in 2000.
Wales came into the tournament on the back of a wretched run and with Pivac’s job under serious threat. They defeated only Georgia and Italy (twice) in 2020, finishing fifth in both the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup.
It was difficult to take for a nation used to dining at the top table under Warren Gatland. Wales won four titles, including three Grand Slams, during Gatland’s reign from 2007-2019.
All that is history now. Pivac is creating his own place in the nation’s affections after this sixth European crown this century for the men from the Principality. But for an agonising last-gasp defeat in Paris last weekend, he would have landed a Grand Slam in only his second campaign.
SIX NATIONS TITLES
How has it come to pass? The return of senior players like Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi – who were absent last autumn – has been significant. So too the increased squad depth, with Pivac blooding eight new caps at the tail-end of 2020.
Led by their remorseless captain Alun Wyn Jones, favourite to be the Lions captain this summer, and with Owens and Justin Tipuric as trusty right-hand men, Wales have shown a indefatigable doggedness unmatched by their rivals.
The set-piece problems have been ironed out and the team has flourished under a new defence coach, Gethin Jenkins. Notwithstanding the costly late yellow cards in Paris, Wales have shown a discipline that can only be admired.
Crucially, they are starting to be comfortable with the all-court game promoted by Pivac and attack coach Stephen Jones. The two guided Scarlets to the Pro14 title in 2017. Now there are signs of that enlightening brand of rugby at national level, with ball-playing forwards as link men or in the wide channels, and an ability to strike rapidly from turnover ball.
Twenty tries, an average of four a match, has been the result in this championship. Seven of those have been shared by wings Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit, the latter, at just 20 years of age, probably the sensation of the championship.
And then there is centurion George North, shifted from wing to centre in a stroke of inspiration. He’s playing better than ever and many tip him to wear the Lions’ No 13 shirt this summer. He could easily have half a dozen compatriots for company in the Test XV.
Finally, as if they needed an added ingredient, Wales have enjoyed a slice of fortune, at least until things turned against them at Stade de France. Fortune in the form of red cards for their first two opponents, Ireland and Scotland. And fortune in the form of the refereeing blunders that enabled them to steal a march on England.
Make no mistake, they are champions because of their quality. Not because of any unexpected gifts. They have shown, as have many before them and many will again, that confidence and momentum can shift in the blink of an eye.
Congratulations Wales. In Europe at least, you are now the ones to beat.
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WALES SIX NATIONS RESULTS
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France 32-30 Wales
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