Wales’s third Six Nations rugby Grand Slam sweep in eight seasons was based on the character of a team whose best may be yet to come, coach Warren Gatland said.
Wales beat France 16-9 two days ago to win the title as Alex Cuthbert scored the only try and Leigh Halfpenny kicked 11 points. Wales won all its five matches -- known as the Grand Slam -- to top the standings with 10 points.
“They showed great character,” Gatland told reporters after the match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. “We have been down in games during this tournament and we have learnt how to win ugly and in the past that may not have happened.”
Wales’s first Grand Slam since 2008 took its total to 11, one behind England’s record of 12. It’s the eighth time a team has won all five matches since Europe’s annual championship expanded to six teams in 2000.
The clean sweep, which followed a fourth-place finish at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand, was based on a nucleus of players who may improve. Of the 15 players who started against the French, only front-row forwards Adam Jones, Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins were over 30.
“We’re still a young side,” Rees, 31, said in comments on the Welsh Rugby Union’s website. “There’s plenty still to achieve and we’re looking forward to the World Cup in 2015.”
Cuthbert, 21, touched down in the 20th minute and Halfpenny converted as Wales took a 7-3 lead. Halfpenny then booted his first penalty to give the Welsh a 10-3 halftime lead.
France got within four points on Lionel Beauxis’s penalty early in the second half, though the 23-year-old Halfpenny answered with a penalty of his own eight minutes later.
After Dimitri Yachvili’s penalty made it 13-9 with eight minutes left, Halfpenny kicked his third to clinch the victory.
‘Over the Moon’
“The boys put their body on the line, you have to do that to win a Grand Slam,” Wales back-rower Dan Lydiate said after being named man-of-the-match. “We’re quite a young team so this is the first chance for a lot of us to win anything, we’re over the moon.”
England finished two points behind in second place after routing Ireland 30-9 as Owen Farrell kicked 20 points at Twickenham in London. Wales won 19-12 at Twickenham on Feb. 25
Ireland and France ended with five points, with the Irish taking third place on a better points difference. Italy beat Scotland 13-6 in a matchup of winless teams. Giovanbattista Venditti scored the only try in Rome as Scotland lost its seventh straight game.
After becoming only the second Wales coach to win two Grand Slams, Gatland targeted more wins against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the top-three teams in the International Rugby Board rankings. Australia hosts Wales in a best-of-three Test series starting June 9 in Brisbane.
“Our big aim is to be consistent in beating the southern hemisphere sides,” Gatland said. “We have a young enough side that over the next few years hopefully we can do that.”
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