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The Night England Came To Pick Up The Grand Slam . . . And Left With Nothing But Bruises

It’s seven years since Wales inflicted their record winning margin over England – the 30-3 hammering that moved Andy Farrell to declare the visitors’ dressing room was the quietest he had ever known. Richard Hibbard was in the noisiest, as he recalls to Graham Thomas ahead of tonight’s re-showing on S4C.

Richard Hibbard recalls looking up at the clock at what he thought was the midway point of the first half of Wales v England, the Six Nations title decider in 2013.

It said 12 minutes had gone.

The clash – which is being re-shown by S4C on Friday night and discussed by players Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips and Andrew Coombs – was frenetic, ferocious and fast-paced from the opening whistle.

It ended with Wales beating the old enemy by a crushing record scoreline to ensure Wales retained their trophy and left England’s hopes of a Grand Slam-winning title piled up with the plastic beer pots, food-wrappers and remainder of the Saturday night debris of the Millennium Stadium.

But for Hibbard – the Wales hooker than night – what sticks in his mind is the lung-bursting physicality.

“The match itself was brutal – so fast, intense and exhausting,” says the Dragons hooker.

“I remember looking up at the clock, thinking we were midway through the first-half, but only 12 minutes had gone. I wondered how I was going to last.

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“I can also recall rushing out of the defensive line to put a big hit on Joe Marler. I heard the crowd react as I connected.

“It was one of those games where you feel battered, physically, but adrenalin keeps you going.

“We gave England a hard time in the scrums that night and they weren’t very happy. They were complaining to Steve Walsh, the referee, but he wasn’t that interested and thought they were just moaning.

“They were going down at every hit and I think that was because of the power that was coming through in our scrum.

“It`s a great feeling when that happens. You know you have the edge, you know the ref knows it, and you know that you`re likely to win a penalty because they can`t handle the pressure.

“England`s complaints just told me they were getting flustered. At one point the scrum collapsed, Dan Cole landed on top of me, and he tried to choke me. We laughed about it later on the Lions tour.”

The background to the match was that Wales needed to win by seven points to take the championship and deny England. In the end, their 27-point winning margin was their biggest over England for 108 years.

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Wales had begun the 2013 campaign in poor shape. They had lost at home to Ireland in their opening game and Rob Howley – who was standing in for Warren Gatland as head coach in Lions year – was under severe criticism.

But they had recovered well to beat France, Italy and Scotland, even though against the Scots they had lost Ryan Jones to injury  – meaning Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton started together for Wales for the first time in a re-shaped back row.

Tipuric was inspired and rightfully gained the man-of-the-match award for his prodigious work in defence on top of his alertness and skills in attack.

Every Welsh fan’s mental highlights reel consists of Tipuric’s sublimely skilful involvement in the two counter-attacking tries claimed by the rampaging Alex Cuthbert.

But it would be a mistake to re-imagine this game as some sort of free-flowing classic. For the most part it was compelling viewing because of the tension and trench warfare around the scrums, rather than much else that matched up to those two tries.

Wales did a lot of tackling. Dan Biggar did a lot of clearing. England did a lot of complaining. And the crowd did a lot of cheering.

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In that sense, the game was in keeping with the championship of that year – high on nail-biting anxiety, but low on tries.

The 2.5 tries per game was the lowest in the championship’s history, while in that final game there were an incredible 11 collapsed scrums, of which six were re-set and 10 resulted in penalties or free-kicks.

The ball came back into play from a scrum just three times – not that many of the Welsh fans minded that night, and certainly none of the squad.

Hibbards recalls: “To beat England by that much, and win the championship, felt unbelievable.

“It was the biggest winning margin ever by a Welsh side against the English – so that’s going to feel good.

“But the moment that really sticks in my mind was when they turned all the lights out in the stadium just before we lifted the trophy.

“I could feel the presence of 75,000 people as if they were sitting on my chest. It made me tremble.

“Then, the lights came on, the fireworks exploded, and everyone just went nuts.”

S4C – Friday – 9.00pm

Dyddiau Da: Rygbi – Cymru v Lloegr 2013

Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips and Andrew Coombs reminisce about one of Wales’ most memorable performances ever.

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